Phillips Collection Grows With Gifts Of Two Klees

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Washington collectors are giving the Phillips Collection two works by the Swiss painter Paul Klee.

"The Witch With the Comb," a lithograph from 1922, and "To the Right, To the Left," a painting done in 1938 -- bring the total of Klee works at the Phillips to 15.

They are the first of his works the museum has acquired since 1953.

"We were looking to expand our holdings in Paul Klee. These works have added a dimension we didn't have before," said Elizabeth Hutton Turner, senior curator at the Phillips.

Since the Phillips has very little acquisition money, any new work comes as a gift after gentle persuasion. "The idea is to get in people's minds that we are not a static collection" said Linda Kaplan, chair of the Phillips board's arts committee. "We want to expand and enlarge what Duncan Phillips had already bought."

"To the Right, To the Left," a mixed-media work on paper with ovals, dots and squares resembling both people and animals, belongs to Elizabeth Klee (no relation to the artist), a former board member of the National Symphony Orchestra and member of the Lansburgh retail family. The painting is already at the Phillips, which is showing "Klee and America," a survey of 80 Klee works drawn from private and public collections in the United States, on view until Sept. 10.

"The Witch With the Comb," a figurative representation, belongs to Carol and B.J. Cutler. She is a cookbook author and travel writer and he is the former editor of the International Herald Tribune.

The couple saw their Klee in Geneva in the 1960s, and bought it immediately.

"She looked so mean and she has two black arrows for hands and they are pointing down to hell," said Carol Cutler. The couple put the lithograph in their living room.

Their gift grew out of familiarity with the Phillips and its shows. "We live a 10-minute walk from the Phillips. We go there a lot, and we have been most impressed with the special shows -- the Calder and Miro show was an important show," said Carol Cutler. They are also giving the museum a 1996 pastel on paper by Sean Scully.

The Cutler work shows Klee's use of motion. "He loved to combine opposites and make two suggestions work at the same time. Things start to rotate. There are birdlike forms walking in and out of the composition," Turner, the Phillips curator, said.

Klee (1879-1940) was born in Switzerland but lived in Germany much of his life. He was a popular artist in Europe before World War II, whose style of meticulous forms and saturated colors was championed by Diego Rivera and Marcel Duchamp. He is considered a major influence on Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Kenneth Noland.

In the early 1930s, the Nazi regime condemned his art, saying it was degenerate and dismissed him from his job at the art academy in Dusseldorf. But he found increased appreciation in America and was celebrated in a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1932. He left Germany in 1933 and returned to Switzerland, where he died.

Phillips, who opened his collection to the public in 1921, appreciated the groundbreaking work Klee was doing in Europe. The work he collected was exhibited in a single space, an old sewing room of the mansion, from 1948 to 1982. The works already owned by the Phillipses are displayed in a room adjoining the current exhibition.

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