Rhythmical, Stricter and Freer

Rhythmisches, strenger und freier (1930) by Paul Klee
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München © VBK, Vienna, 2010

Many of Paul Klee’s works are characterized by color fields. In the bottom two rows of this painting, the fields are of similar size and aligned alongside each other much like building blocks. From the third row on, they become increasingly irregular, and the color sequence is disrupted. Klee used musical terms to christen many of his finished works, although the titles do not allow us to draw automatic conclusions about the artist’s intentions. Nonetheless, the complex concept of rhythm, which was a topic of heated debate in various scientific disciplines at the time, played a central role in Klee’s theory of art, with his understanding of it changing over the years.[1] The concept of rhythm is associated not only with art but also with biology, for example — here with reference to processes of growth in nature. The latter became significant, in turn, in Klee’s organological concept of work. Rhythm, as a basic principle of life, also played an important role in the aesthetics of empathy, for aesthetic pleasure is determined by the recipient’s empathy with a sensuous object. Klee held lectures on rhythm at the Bauhaus using simple grids of horizontal and vertical lines to demonstrate his point and linking the concept to the factural painting process – clearly recognizable in Rhythmisches—and to the idea of factural rhythm. In his considerations Klee drew on the ideas of the surgeon Theodor Billroth, for whom rhythm can be perceived by several different senses. In the notes for his art pedagogy lectures, Klee wrote: We can perceive rhythm with three senses at the same time: we can 1) hear it, 2) see it, 3) feel it in our muscles; and that is what gives it power over our entire organism (Billroth).[2] The artist cited the working songs of builders as an example of the interplay between the factural process of painting and rhythm: The songs that building workers use to spur themselves on (more commonly in primitive regions) exemplify a factural rhythm that belongs there but ultimately leaves no trace of itself.[3] Which brings us back to the walled bottom rows of this painting.


  • original Title: Rhythmisches, strenger und freier
  • Date: 1930
  • Genre: Painting

This work is issued in following texts