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Curator's choice: highlights from 'The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee'

Six must-see paintings from the major retrospective at the Tate Modern, as chosen by its curator, Matthew Gale

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'Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms', 1920

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

'What marked Paul Klee out at this moment was that he was able to balance abstract and natural forms – essentially floating trees and squares – within a single composition. He promptly selected this painting for his breakthrough exhibition in Munich at the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz, which established his reputation.'

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'Room Perspective with Inhabitants' (1921)

© Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

'This is one of a sequence of works that Klee made with his newly developed ‘oil-transfer’ method – a means of transferring a drawing to paper or canvas via a sheet of paper covered with black oil paint. The manipulated perspective has certain similarities with photographs of his studio at the Bauhaus in Weimar, and the ‘inhabitants’ may be the artist picturing himself.'

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'Fish Magic' (1925)

© Philadelphia Museum of Art

'Klee’s interest in fish relates to his observation of their movement in three dimensions. In "Fish Magic" he used the mysterious dark ground to generate jewel-like coloured details and to give a sense of the strange visual experience of an aquarium for both observers and occupants.'

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'Fire in the Evening' (1929)

© New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

'In this intense painting, Klee appears to embrace the functionalist aesthetics of the Dessau Bauhaus, but allows for an intuitive modification of geometry that brings the work to life. Its hot colouring seems to derive from the trip that Klee made to Egypt in late 1928.'

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'Bewitched-Petrified' (1934)

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

'The paintings that Klee made in Bern in 1934 appear to address his traumatic experience of the Nazis, which led on to his expulsion from his teaching post and eventual exile. The strangely ossified forms are difficult to interpret, but they create an unnerving atmosphere.'

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'Twilight Flowers' (1940)

© Kunstmuseum, Bern

'Klee made "Twilight Flowers" about six months before his death. Showing a defiant optimism, this small painting comprises a frieze-like array of fantastical plants that echo some of his earliest motifs. It was the last work that Klee added to the list for his exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich in February 1940, the last show to be conceived with assistance from the artist himself.'

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