alea jacta, Paul Klee
Paul Klee
alea jacta
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Paul Klee

alea jacta, 1940

346 x 216 mm
450 x 294 mm
Physical Description
Brush and paste paint on mottled pink handmade wove paper, mounted on cardboard
Inventory Number
Object Number
16735 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

'The Die Is Cast' was created in March of the war year 1940, three years before Paul Klee died. As always, the artist linked his drawing with a poetic title. The Latin "alea iacta est" recalls not only Caesar's exclamation when he crossed the Rubicon, as recorded by Suetonius, but also the comment of the humanist Ulrich von Hutten - "I dared to do it." - as he looked back on his life, which ended in 1523 in exile on the island of Ufenau, in Lake Zurich. Klee had emigrated to Switzerland in 1933 after being dismissed by the National Socialists from his teaching post at the Düsseldorf Academy. He spent his last creative years, seriously ill, in his studio in Bern. Sensing his approaching death, the artist chose this expressive saying to match the content of his drawing, which reveals its fateful dimension with a seemingly intuitive and yet calculated formal language.

Klee offers his vivid metaphors on a rather battered sheet of laid paper, which he mounted on cardboard. Especially in view of the fact that it was created around Easter time, 'alea jacta' reminds us of the display of the tools of Christ's martyrdom and the Veil of St Veronica in Good Friday processions in Switzerland. The viewer is offered a number of possible representational associations, such as a drumbeat seen from above - it could also be a still-swinging clock pendulum - a flag or a hatchet, a boat linking faraway shores and, finally, not the six eyes of a die but, strangely, nine orderly dots, a number that corresponds to the hierarchy of angelic choirs. The drawing gains its particular strength and validity through the tension created by the ambiguous and impressive black signs applied with broad brushstrokes, together with the amorphous blood-red patches of colour and the fragile-looking paper.

Klee's ability to penetrate the different facets of his existence in an artistic way is one of the characteristic qualities of his work. Driven to the limit in form and content, this late drawing tells of the end of his search to find the way to himself. With its primordial-looking style of composition and symbolic pictorial language, it can be read as an expression of the creative elemental forces in man. Klee's interest in the pictures of children and artistic outsiders is well known, but unlike those of his Swiss contemporary Louis Soutter, for example, Klee's works are sustained by an unceasing and critical awareness of the creativity of the individual.

About the Acquisition

The Frankfurt businessman Dr. Kurt Möllgaard and his wife, Marga, began collecting modern art after 1945. From 1964 on they donated parts of their collection to the Städelscher Museums-Verein. Kurt Möllgaard commented on his actions: "We are consciously continuing a tradition which has been cultivated to a remarkable extent by those citizens of Frankfurt who were forced to leave their homes after 1933." In 1987, after the death of his wife and his son, Möllgaard founded the Kurt and Marga Möllgaard Foundation. Since then it has enabled the purchase of further artworks, primarily for the Collection of Prints and Drawings.

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