Past Exhibition Special Exhibition

Paul Klee: Art in the Making 1883-1940



Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery (1F)

About the Exhibition

The Swiss-born painter, Paul Klee (1879-1940), has been beloved by the Japanese for many years, and numerous exhibitions have been held in the past. As illustrated by such subtitles as “Erzählung und Schöpfung (Narrative and Creation)”, “Paul Klee and His Travels”, and “To Draw, To Paint”, these exhibitions have served to relay the charms of Klee’s art to many, poetically extolling the stories surrounding his works and the creative philosophy.

This Klee exhibition, which will be the first to be held at The National Museum of Modern Art will build upon the legacy of these prior exhibitions to focus on a perspective that has not previously been considered, “how Klee’s works were physically created”.

This exhibition, consisting of 170 pieces selected mainly from the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, contains many works which have never been shown in Japan. Comprised of six chapters, two that introduce the works recorded in his atelier photographs and the model works that he categorized as “Special Class”, and others that investigate the specific techniques used in the creative process, this exhibition seeks to shed light on the creative working process of Klee’s art.

About the Sections

Making in the Present: Works in the Ateliers

During his lifetime, Klee had ateliers in five locations: Munich, Weimar, Dessau, Dusseldorf, and Bern. The walls of his atelier and home were always covered with numerous works of his own creation, both finished and unfinished. Many of these works in his ateliers are documented in photographs taken mostly by the artist himself.

It is notable that the painter took such photographs mostly at the turning points of his career. The ostensibly casual scenes in his ateliers seen in the photographs were in fact carefully organized by Klee himself. Using various materials such as Klee’s work list and diary, we can identify and examine the works in the photographs to catch a glimpse into the painter’s interesting production process. Here we present Klee’s photographs of his ateliers and his works shown there to trace the painter’s trial and error during production.

Process 1. Transfer/Paint/Transfer: Oil Transfer Drawings

One of the techniques devised by Klee was “oil transfer”. A drawing done in pencil or ink was placed on top of paper painted with black oil paint, then the drawing was outlined with a needle and transferred, then painted with watercolors. Klee would at times go on to create lithographs and oil paintings based on these transfers. By comparing the preceding drawings with the oil transfers, “Process 1” will unveil the mystery of this technique, which hovers between drawing, color painting, and print.

Process 2. Cut/Turn/Paste: Cut and Reconstructed Works

From time to time, Klee would take a finished work and cut it into two or more parts, creating a new work from these parts. In this “Process 2”, examples of such works are introduced, where cut pieces were rotated and interchanged or moved from left to right, then recombined or reconstructed, and pasted or mounted to create a single work.

Process 3. Cut/Divide/Paste: Cut and Separated Works

“Process 3” builds upon the previous chapter, considering works that have been created after cutting. In this chapter, examples or works that were cut into two or more pieces to become independent works rather than being recombined are considered along with the reconfiguration of the original compositions.

Process 4. Recto/Verso/Recto: Double-Sided Works

A little-known fact about Klee’s works is that many of them have something written, drawn or painted on the back. In this chapter, the relationship between the front and back side of Klee’s work is considered, exploring the possibility that paintings can be not only two-dimensional, but also three-dimensional entities.

Making in the Past: The “Special Class” Works

Beginning in about 1925, Klee classified his works on his own list into eight categories. Although we don’t know why, it may have been because the painter dissolved the contract with the dealer Hans Goltz’s Galerie Neue Kunst in Munich at about that time, and began to look after his works himself.

In addition to the eight categories, Klee set the Sonderklasse (special class) for pieces “not for sale.” Marked with “S Cl” or “S Kl” on the picture or the work list, the pieces in the class are considered as those Klee thought to be touchstones or models for production that triggered his subsequent works.

Some of the works in the Sonderklasse are accompanied by words such as “for Lily” and “for me,” suggesting that Klee related the category partly to memories of himself and his family. Thus far about 270 pieces are found to belong to the Sonderklasse.

Hours & Admissions


Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery (1F)


*Please note that the exhibits and the exhibition schedule are subject to change without previous notice. For up-to-date information, please kindly check our website.


10:00-17:00 (Friday is 10:00-20:00)
*Last admission is 30 minutes before closing.
*Closed 18:00 on Fridays & Saturdays.


Closed on Mondays [except July 18]


Day ticket (Group of 20 persons or more)
Adults: 1,500 (1,100)
College / University students: 1100 (800)
High school students: 700 (400)

*All prices include tax.
*Middle school age and under 15 are free of charge.
*Including the admission fee for On the Road and Permanent Collection.
*Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.


The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Nikkei Inc.


Embassy of Switzerland


NEC Corporation; SOMPO JAPAN INSURANCE INC.; Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd.; Toray Industries, Inc.; Resona Bank, Limited.


Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern; Swiss International Air Lines; Japan Airlines; Switzerland Tourism


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