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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Paul Klee's Refuge may have been his thoughtful response to the issues facing society at the time. This painting was completed during a time of great upheaval.

People everywhere were thinking about war and the effects of war. In times like those, everyone affected by such a terrible trauma would seek a refuge.

The horrors of war would leave an effect that could not be erased in just a few years. Artists played an important role in translating the feelings of society at that time. In particular, artists like Klee who focused on the Expressionist style studied ways to bring those feelings to light on canvas.

Refuge seems to almost be like a womb. The visual impact of the lines used to create a shelter is strong. The viewer immediately feels like the structure itself is safe. However, the expression on the figure in the painting shows real fear. Perhaps even in a safe place, the trauma endured makes it difficult to feel relaxed.

The womb like effect is emphasised with Klee's use of colour here. He has selected soft shades of red and pink. Instead of inciting passion, the hues he has opted to use evoke a sense of peace. There is a dark area in the painting that is more undefined than the rest of space. It calls to mind and image of a body, death and blood spilled in war.

It is placed behind the figure to the left, almost as if it is hoped that it will be left behind. Yet, it is so very present that it may be difficult to ever do that. Klee has skillfully used colour in this piece to draw out emotion. Viewers who are fond of feeling an immediate reaction to a painting may enjoy this piece for the strong sense of emotion that it evokes.

Klee's 1930 painting may have been a source of comfort to those who viewed it at that time. It may have been intended to serve this purpose. It could also have mainly been the artist's own way to deal with his personal feelings on the conflict facing them. It may be a piece that anyone who has ever sought a refuge after severe trauma can relate to.