Speed Art Museum Rediscovers a Paul Klee Work

  • LOUISVILLE, Kentucky
  • /
  • February 24, 2014

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Paul Klee watercolor rediscovered in Speed Art Museum collection
Speed Art Museum

During the expansion of Kentucky's Speed Art Museum, the curatorial staff has been busier than ever working with conservators across the country to assess the condition of the museum's collection and to oversee repairs to any damage wrought by time. Through this conservation process came about a unique discovery to a Paul Klee piece that has the museum buzzing with excitement.

In 1998, the Speed received a generous bequest of artworks from the collection of long-time museum supporters Major General Dillman A. Rash and Nancy Baton Rash. The bequest, which included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, and Maurice Utrillo, also contained a fascinating, Seven Blossoms, drawing by renowned Surrealist artist, Paul Klee.

Klee’s Seven Blossoms is a watercolor and ink drawing on paper depicting an abstracted arrangement of flowers, scattered across the sheet like fanciful windmills or a child’s whirligigs. At some point after completing his composition, the artist mounted the drawing onto paperboard and inscribed the date and title below. Unfortunately, Klee used a poor quality board that contained an acidic wood-pulp core that was turning brown and it put the original drawing at risk of future damage.

Earlier this year the drawing was sent to Nashville paper conservator Christine Young to remove the acidic core of the paperboard to help preserve the artwork. In the course of her work, Young made a surprising—but very welcome—discovery. As she cautiously removed the original drawing from its mount, she uncovered a previously unknown second drawing by Klee on the reverse. “It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen to a conservator very often,” remarked Young, “but when it does, it’s exciting.”

The newly discovered watercolor (seen in above image) drawing depicts a town or village with stylized, geometric buildings set against a landscape. Triangles on the right evoke hills or mountains, while the circle and ovoid forms in the sky are reminiscent of the celestial bodies of the moon and stars that appear in Klee’s paintings from the 1910s and early 1920s.

To Young, it quickly became apparent that no one had seen the drawing on the reverse in nearly a century. “I realized that the last person to lay eyes on it was Klee,” observed Young.

“Any discovery of a new work by an artist of Klee’s significance is exciting, but this discovery is particularly significant for the Speed. It expands our representation of the artist and illustrates different facets of his artistic production. In Seven Blossoms we see Klee’s profound interest in line, with its lyrical and rhythmic linear flowers. The newly discovered watercolor on the reverse shows his strengths as a colorist, where form is defined by washes of pure color. It's worth seeing in person!” said Kim Spence, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Speed Art Museum.

On February 28th from 12p-6p and March 1st from 11a-1p, the Speed Art Museum welcomes the community to their satellite space, Local Speed to enjoy both of Klee’s highly inventive creations in a special public viewing. The drawing will be displayed in a double-sided frame that makes both of Klee’s compositions visible.

Local Speed is located at 822 East Market Street and is free and open to the general public.

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