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Klee's new language of art

A mosiac. a thing of color patches. Why did Paul Klee call this almost abstract watercolor "Southern Gardens"?

Its title and rhythm of warm colors have led at least one writer to connect it with Tunisian gardens Klee had admired and painted some years earlier.

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But art historian Richard Verdi, in his book "Klee and Nature" (Rizzoli, 1985), argues that the Swiss artist's "garden pictures" have more to do with "his theories of pictorial form" than with "nature imagery." (The garden pictures form a sizable group, having such titles as "Garden Plan," "Garden Rhythm," "Garden at Night," or "Strange Garden.")

This is certainly not a realistic painting of gardens. Mr. Verdi suggests that what Klee found in parks and gardens was "a ready-made example of the vagaries of nature conforming to the ... disciplined laws of the abstract art of architecture."

"Southern Gardens" might equally be a kind of visual music. Klee and other radical avant-garde artists of the early 20th century were eager to construct a new painting language. It was to have a syntax of basic forms, lines, colors, movements, and relationships. Klee felt the need to liberate his art radically from the inherited burden of art history. He was determined to come closer to the genesis of things, like a composer, a poet - or a child.

Klee studied children's paintings and realized that painting had no need to describe the world. It could invent a parallel universe - made of elemental forms, colors, lines. Though constructed of universals, such art is a private language, like music, but its expressive power can be no less compelling.

Art dealer Heinz Berggruen, who in 1984 gave "Southern Gardens" and 89 other Klees to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote of the "domain" of Klee's art as "a world both related to and yet far removed from what we see around us."

And he quoted the artist's own dictum: "Art does not render the visible; rather, it makes visible."

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