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One Artwork’s Journey

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

One of the unexpected opportunities that COVID – 19 has given me this year has been the time to do research on some individual artworks in the bequest received by the University of Lethbridge from the estate of Marmie Hess in 2017. To learn more about Marmie Hess and the donation of more than a thousand artworks by Canadian, international and Indigenous artists, click here. With the added time to pursue my research from home, I have been able to learn more about the history of some truly special pieces and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you! One such piece that has captured my imagination is the artwork below.

Paul Klee, Katastrophe im Winter (Catastrophe in Winter), 1930, gouache and watercolour on paper mounted to paperboard, 21 x 33.6 cm. From the University of Lethbridge Art Collection; gift of Dr. Margaret “Marmie” Perkins Hess, 2017.

Paul Klee was born on December 18, 1879 in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland. Known for his highly individualistic style influenced by the Expressionist, Surrealist and Cubist movements, Klee was one of the first artists to break with tradition and pioneer abstraction in the early 1900s. His style was highly imaginative and utilized symbols and childlike mark making often on a small scale. His art has influenced many other artists from Joan Miró and Salvador Dali to Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell.[1]

The Paul Klee Foundation (Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland) has a piece in their collection titled Hovering executed in the same year as our painting. In the video below, one can see a strong connection between the elements of composition and special relationships in each. While Katastophe im Winter doesn’t have the same dark lines connecting the corners of the shapes to create, as the narrator in the youtube link below describes it, irrational space, the same feeling of weightlessness is nonetheless achieved through the overlapping of the textured geometric shapes. One can almost seeour Klee as a way of working through the same idea.

Out of more than one thousand pieces in the Hess collection, this work has always stood out to me. This is the very first artwork by Paul Klee in the UofL Art collection and I find that very exciting. It’s also one of very few international pieces in the bequest that are not prints or multiples and it’s by one of the foremost artists of the 20thcentury. In art, printmaking is sometimes used by artists to create an edition, or a defined number of prints. Unlike a mass-produced poster, which may have an unlimited number of copies printed, art prints are all considered originals and are each usually signed by the artist. The Hess bequest contained a number of prints by other international artists such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Alexander Calder.

Another reason the Klee painting is so interesting is that it has a connection to Roloff Beny. Through previous research, I’ve learned that Marmie trusted the advice of Roloff Beny when purchasing works originating outside of Canada and that they enjoyed collecting together for several decades. This relationship was explored more deeply in the exhibition Collected by Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Hess: Roloff Beny (June 13 – August 29, 2019). To read more about that click here. Marmie kept detailed records of her art collection and she frequently listed Roloff Beny as her advisor. There are pages and pages of records with Beny’s physical signature on each one, but the record for this Klee is the only instance (in her international collection) where she lists herself as the advisor. There’s also one other international artwork in the bequest that Marmie had acquired later from Beny which he had originally purchased from Gallery Moos in 1967.

What was it about this piece that made it different from the rest? What was it about it that captured her imagination? Did she feel like this was an important piece in her collection? Some of these questions we’ll never know the answer to but there is still plenty to uncover.

Reverse of frame for Paul Klee’s ‘Katastrophe im Winter’.

One of the first places to look for clues about the history of an artwork is on the back of the frame or canvas. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of information, but at other times the clues on the reverse can tell you the complete story of the object. In this case we have a tag from Levis Auctions in Calgary (who handled the Hess collection before it was distributed amongst the beneficiaries of her estate) and a label from a gallery where this piece was once sold from.

Detail of gallery label on reverse of artwork.

Paul Klee documentation from Marmie’s collection records.

Detail of pencil notation in Paul Klee record.

In this case we also have the advantage of having access to the records that Marmie kept about her collection. This has been an incredibly helpful resource in my research and I would highly recommend that all collectors keep records of their collections. Most of the information about the artwork is recorded on both the gallery label and the collection record. One thing we can learn from the record is that Marmie acquired it in 1967. The other interesting piece of information is that there is a notation in pencil which reads “Inscribed in the artist’s hand lower center on the paper on which the painting is mounted; 1930 . F. 9. Katastrophe im Winter”.

Walter Moos opened his first art gallery in Yorkville in May, 1959 – The Globe and Mail.

Walter Moos (1926 – 2013) was an art dealer who opened Gallery Moos (Toronto) in 1959. The gallery was one of the first in Toronto dedicated to promoting modern art and showed a considerable number of artists who are well known today including Sorel Etrog, Ken Danby, Gershon Iskowitz, Paul-Émile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle and many others. Gallery Moos was one of the first art galleries to open in what would become the lively district of Yorkville today. Walter was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1926 and came from a family of established art gallery owners. His parents owned Gallerie Moos (the namesake of Walter’s gallery) which was shuttered by the Nazis and had its assets confiscated during WWII. Walter and his family fled to France, but tragically his parents perished at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1940. Walter fled to Switzerland on his own at age sixteen to be with his uncle Max and cousin Georges. Upon graduating in 1946 from the École supérieure de commerce in Geneva, Walter immigrated to New York and studied at the New School for Social Research from 1948 – 1951. After growing familiar with Toronto through regular visits with his brother who lived there, Walter moved permanently in 1959. He was then able to leverage his family art connections and opened Gallery Moos in May of the same year. Later, he established outpost galleries in New York, (1979) and Calgary (1986) and when he passed away in July 2013, the Globe and Mail referred to him as the “Father of Yorkville”. You can read more about Walter Moos here.

Gallery Moos on Yorkville Avenue 1964 - Foreground, left to right: Sorel Etrog Mother and Child, Sunbird, Capriccio 1963-64.

Given that Marmie passed away in 2016, four months after her 100thbirthday, she enjoyed the Klee that she purchased from Gallery Moos for 49 years (almost exactly half her life). This still leaves us with some questions. Where was this piece between 1930 and 1967? European works with provenance gaps during WWII should rightly raise red flags for collectors and institutions today. It seems possible that Walter’s firsthand experience with the expropriation of his parent’s gallery and art would have made him aware of the importance of establishing legal ownership for these artworks. Fortunately, none of the European works in the Hess bequest were listed on the international registry of missing artworks which was consulted before the artwork was brought before the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery’s acquisitions committee in 2017 when the bequest was offered.

So what does happen when we search for this artwork on the internet? When I ran a Google search with “Katastrophe im Winter Paul Klee” something very interesting came up.

From ‘Morphodynamics in Aesthetics: Essays on the Singularity of the Work of Art’

By Stefania Caliandro. 2019, page VI.

An image of what seems to be the same “Katastrophe im Winter” appeared in a publication just last year. Curiously, the image is in black and white which suggests to me that it was taken before Marmie acquired it in 1967. Though the black and white image is in much higher contrast, the brushstrokes in the background and even the lines above and below the painting are consistent in both. Also rather helpfully, the publication of this image indicates that the Zentrum Paul Klee is aware of its existence.

Under normal circumstances, I would have looked at the Paul Klee catalogue raisonné in person to verify. A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all accepted authentic works by an artist in a particular media or all media. The closest copy available to me in Lethbridge is at the University of Alberta Library which, at the time of writing, was not possible to access due to the Covid-19 closures.

Above - Image published in Caliandro’s book in 2019 and image of Paul Klee painting at ULAG.

Rather than put my search for answers on hold, I reached out to the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland and much to my delight I heard back! The work is in the Catalogue Raisonné Paul Klee, volume 5, No. 5348. The archivist that I am in contact with has confirmed that the Zentrum only has a black and white photo of the work in their archives and revealed to me that the location of this work after 1967 was unknown to them. Together we’ve pieced together many of the missing pieces.

So let’s start at the beginning. In 1930, the year that Klee painted Katastrophe im Winter, he had been teaching at the Bauhaus Design School for a decade. The location of the school changed three times in its history from 1919 – 1933 but was at that time located in Dessau, Germany. In 1931, Klee relocated after he received a professorship at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. He held this position until 1933 when the Nazis rose to power and stripped him of his position. Seventeen of Klee's paintings were later displayed at the infamous "Degenerate Art" exhibition organized by the Nazis in Munich in 1937. Klee himself had left Germany in 1933 and settled in Bern, Switzerland.[2] It’s during this tumultuous period where our painting was exhibited for the first time (that we know of) at the Kunsthalle Bern (February 23 – March 24, 1935). This is the only known exhibition of the painting during the artist’s lifetime.

Paul and Lily Klee with cat “Bimbo” photographed by Fee Meisel in Bern, Switzerland 1935 - Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, donated by the Klee family.

According to the Zentrum Paul Klee, our painting along with all of the artist’s possessions, became the property of his wife Lily Klee after he passed away in 1940 from scleroderma at the age of sixty. Sometime before Lily Klee died in 1946, the artwork was acquired by the collector and architect Werner Allenbach. This is a particularly interesting moment in the history of ownership of our Klee.

Paul Klee had been born in Switzerland and grew up there but his father had been a German citizen and under Swiss law, he was born a German citizen. After moving back to Switzerland in 1933, he applied for Swiss citizenship the following year. At the time, he was rejected on the grounds of the Berlin Convention which required the applicant to have been a resident of Switzerland for five years. He reapplied after the requisite time had passed but his application was not approved before his death in 1940.[3] Paul and Lily Klee had a son named Felix who would have stood to inherit Lily’s estate under normal circumstances, but after international negotiations, Switzerland signed the Washington Agreement on May 25, 1946 as part of the reparations following WWII. This agreement included the liquidation of assets owned by German citizens living in Switzerland.[4] This policy was very complicated and riddled with loopholes and areas of disagreement.[5] Fortunately, two days before her death, a group of four collectors including Werner Allenbach got together to purchase the 3,000 works of art and the library of Paul Klee for SFr120,000 in an effort to stop the collection from leaving Switzerland. A year later the collection was transferred to the Klee Society and today they are held by the Zentrum Paul Klee.[6]

There isn’t a lot of information about Werner Allenbach online, but there are other great examples of Klee’s work that passed through his hands in public and private collections around the world.

One of the things that these examples have in common is that after Werner Allenbach owned them, they were sold through a gallery in Paris called Galerie Berggruen & Cie. I can’t help but wonder why they were sold instead of being donated over time to the Zentrum Paul Klee given Allenbach’s important role in building the institution’s collection. I haven’t discovered the answer, but there could be any number of reasons. In any case, the fact remains that many of Allenbach’s works by Klee were sold to the gallery in Paris. According to the entry for our work in the catalogue raisonné, Galerie Berggruen & Cie acquired it sometime before 1960 and held it until 1967.

Heinz Berggruen 2002 – Wikipedia Commons

When Heinz Berggruen (1914 – 2007) was 22 years old, he fled Nazi Germany in 1936 to study German literature at the University of California, Berkley. Though he had no formal education in art, he went on to become a successful art dealer and collector. The very first artwork that he purchased was Paul Klee’s watercolour Phantom Perspective (1920) which he had acquired in Chicago in 1937. This was the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion for collecting artwork by Paul Klee.[7] In 1947, Heinz Berggruen opened the Galerie Berggruen & Cie in Paris where he served as director until he retired in 1980 to spend more time on his own personal collecting. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) in New York City:

As a collector and dealer, Heinz Berggruen played a major role in the post-World War II reception and dissemination of European modern art, and more specifically, of Pablo Picasso.[8]

He’s known for three significant gifts of art to cultural institutions. The first was in 1972 and included a collection of twelve works by Paul Klee to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. To view the artwork in this donation, click here and then click “Les Ouevres”.

The second donation in 1984 contained 90 artworks by Paul Klee to the MET. This collection included the very first Klee he had acquired some 47 years earlier. Last year in 2019, 75 of these works travelled to the National Gallery of Canada for an exhibition titled ‘Paul Klee: The Berggruen Collection from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’.[9] To view the works from Heinz Berggruen at the MET, click here.

The third and and largest gift took place in 2000 when he sold a collection valued at 1.5 billion marks to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (part of the Berlin State Museums) for 253 million marks.[10] The transaction included a total of 165 artworks with 120 by Picasso, 60 by Klee and the remaining 85 works by other modern artists including Matisse and Giacometti. The following is an excerpt from Berggruen’s obituary published in The Guardian:

“After six decades away, Berggruen moved back to the city of his birth in 1996, taking 113 masterworks in his luggage. He then decided to give much of his collection to the German people as a gesture of reconciliation. He was criticized by some who felt that, after the Nazi treatment of the Jews, he should not have opened a gallery in Berlin. But Berggruen felt it was the right thing to do; he felt the same thing about the war between the Israelis and the Arabs. He had a sentimental attachment to the city of his youth, and the desire to expose the German people to art that the Nazis had banned as degenerate. He said: "I've been in the position where I can show the Germans again what Picasso and Klee are like, and they appreciate it greatly."”[11]

The Berggruen Museum’s collection isn’t as searchable as the Pompidou or MET, but to learn more about this remarkable collection, click here.

While our Klee was in the possession of Galerie Berggruen & Cie, it was exhibited for the second time (that we know of) in an exhibition titled, ‘Klee lui-même. 20 oeuvres: 1907 – 1940’ in 1961. From the title, which translates to ‘Klee Himself. 20 works’, we can infer that our work was one of twenty in the show. A catalogue for the exhibition was published by the gallery and the colourful cover is pictured below.

Cover of exhibition catalogue ‘Klee lui-meme. 20 oeuvres: 1907 – 1940’ at Gallerie Berggruen & Cie, Paris 1961 -

It’s fascinating to think that if Heinz Berggruen’s gallery hadn’t sold Katastrophe im Winter in 1967, there is a possibility that it could have been donated to a major cultural institution and ended up in Paris, New York or Berlin today. How very lucky we are at the University of Lethbridge to get to steward such a remarkable piece of history for the future.

What a journey this artwork has been on! After being created in Germany while Paul Klee was teaching at the Bauhaus, it fled with Klee to Switzerland where it was shown for the only time during the artist’s lifetime in 1935 at the Kunsthalle Bern. After the artist passed away in 1940, it was owned by his widow Lily for some time before she sold it to Werner Allenbach, an important collector who helped establish the collection at the Zentrum Paul Klee. From there our artwork travelled to Paris where it existed for at least seven years in the collection of a gallery that was owned and operated by one of the most important collectors of Paul Klee’s work in the world. Crossing the Atlantic, our artwork passed through Gallery Moos in Toronto before journeying to Calgary with Marmie Hess to be enjoyed for nearly half a century. Finally, in 2017 Katastrophe im Winterwas gifted to the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery from the estate of Marmie Hess where it will continue to inspire for generations to come.

David Smith

Assistant Curator / Preparator


1930 – 1940 Paul Klee, Dessau, Germany / Dusseldorf, Germany / Bern, Switzerland

1940 – 1946 Lily Klee, Bern, Switzerland

1960 Werner Allenbach, Bern, Switzerland (probably acquired from Lily Klee)

1960 – 1967 Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Paris, France (probably acquired from Werner Allenbach)

1967 Gallery Moos, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

1967 – 2017 Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2017 – present University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada


1935 February 23 – March 24 “Paul Klee” Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, curated by Max Huggler

1961 “Klee lui-meme. 20 oeuvres: 1907 – 1940” Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Paris, France


Tower, Beeke Sell. Klee and Kandinsky in Munich and at the Bauhaus. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981.

Paul Klee-Stiftung and Kunstmuseum Bern. Paul Klee Catalogue Raisonné Vol. 5: 1927 – 1930. Bern: Thames & Hudson, 2001. No. 5348

Caliandro, Stefania. Essays Morphodynamics in Aesthetics on the Singularity of the Work of Art. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019. eBook.

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