One of Paul Klee’s very last works, Hitze (Heat) is a stunning picture from the artist’s rich and productive late period that began in 1937 and ended with his death in June 1940. Executed in ‘Kleisterfarben’ - a mixture of coloured pigment and glue - that the artist favoured throughout his last years, the painting is a magical and poetical vision of the world rendered solely through simple, but powerfully expressive line, symbol and colour. With its predominantly warm, red colouring and its semi-readable symbols, glyphs and pictograms combining to form an otherworldly landscape of form, the painting provides an extraordinarily persuasive visual evocation of its invisible subject: heat. A major example of the great originality and power of Klee’s vision in his last years, Hitze was one of only a few works chosen to represent this great, late flowering of his work at the first posthumous retrospective of Klee’s work held at the Kunsthalle, Bern in November 1940.
It was in 1935 that Klee had been first diagnosed with the rare and incurable disease scleroderma. Unable to work throughout much of 1936, the last three years of Klee’s life were to witness an extraordinary development during which Klee produced a prodigious number of pictures and arguably, the finest work of his career. Knowing he was dying, it has often been argued that Klee created a requiem for himself through his art of 1938-40. ‘Of course it is no accident that I am moving into the tragic vein,’ Klee commented at this time, ‘many of my works indicate this and say: the time has come…’ (Klee, quoted in E.G. Güse, ed., Paul Klee: Dialogue with Nature, Munich, 1991, p. 154).
Klee had once, in 1920, described the creative process of drawing as ‘a certain fire, coming to life, [it] leaps up, runs through the hand, courses onto the paper, and flies back as a spark where it came from, thus completing the circle; back to the eye and on again’ (Klee, 1920, quoted in C. Hopfengart & M. Baumgartner, Paul Klee, Life and Work, Bern, 2012, p. 314).
This elemental and cyclical sense of creation also runs as a central theme throughout Klee’s late works. Hitze appears to depict the core elements of life as a visual experience that has been built from a secret pictorial language of cyphers. With its angular network of lines and colour joyously providing a sense of the infinite possibility and variety of life, Hitze articulates a profound, almost otherworldly understanding of elemental nature and the organising principles of life with a brilliance and persuasiveness that is truly startling.