Paul Klee. Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine). 1922
Paul Klee

Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine)

1922
Not on view
Medium
Oil transfer drawing, watercolor and ink on paper with gouache and ink borders on board
Dimensions
25 1/4 x 19" (64.1 x 48.3 cm)
Credit
Purchase
Object number
564.1939
Copyright
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Department
Drawings and Prints

The "twittering" in the title doubtless refers to the birds, while the "machine" is suggested by the hand crank. The two elements are, literally, a fusing of the natural with the industrial world. Each bird stands with beak open, poised as if to announce the moment when the misty cool blue of night gives way to the pink glow of dawn. The scene evokes an abbreviated pastoral—but the birds are shackled to their perch, which is in turn connected to the hand crank.

Upon closer inspection, however, an uneasy sensation of looming menace begins to manifest itself. Composed of a wiry, nervous line, these creatures bear a resemblance to birds only in their beaks and feathered silhouettes; they appear closer to deformations of nature. The hand crank conjures up the idea that this "machine" is a music box, where the birds function as bait to lure victims to the pit over which the machine hovers. We can imagine the fiendish cacophony made by the shrieking birds, their legs drawn thin and taut as they strain against the machine to which they are fused.

Klee's art, with its extraordinary technical facility and expressive color, draws comparisons to caricature, children's art, and the automatic drawing technique of the Surrealists. In Twittering Machine, his affinity for the contrasting sensibilities of humor and monstrosity converges with formal elements to create a work as intriguing in its technical composition as it is in its multiplicity of meanings.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 127

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
Acquired from the artist by the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1923 [1]; removed as “degenerate art” by the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, 1937 [2]; on consignment to Karl Buchholz, Berlin, 1939; to Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 14,1939 [3].
[1] Paul-Klee-Stiftung, Kunstmuseum Bern, eds. Paul Klee: catalogue raisonné. Bern: Benteli and New York: Thames and Hudson, vol. 3 (1999), no. 2975. One of four works the Nationalgalerie acquired from the artist for 40 million M during the inflation of 1923 (see Annegret Janda and Jörn Grabowski, eds., Kunst in Deutschland 1905-1937: Die verlorene Sammlung der Nationalgalerie im ehemaligen Kronprinzenpalais, exh. cat. Berlin: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1992, no. 229). Included in the exhibition Paul Klee, Nationalgalerie, Kronprinzenpalais, Berlin, February 1923. On loan from the Nationalgalerie to the Museum of Modern Art, New York for the exhibition German Painting and Sculpture, March 13 - April 26, 1931 (no. 42). On view at the Kronprinzenpalais of the Nationalgalerie, Berlin until 1933 (ibid.). Included in the exhibition Der Bolschewismus - große antibolschewistische Schau, Deutsches Museum, Munich, November 7, 1936-January 31, 1937 (see Charles Werner Haxthausen, "A 'Degenerate' Abroad: Klee's Reception in America, 1937-1940," Josef Helfenstein and Elizabeth Hutton Turner, eds., Klee and America, exh. cat. New York: Neue Galerie, 2006, pp. 159-162; Anja Tiedemann, "Auf dem Weg in ein freies Land. Paul Klees Vokaltuch der Kammersängerin Rosa Silber," Uwe Fleckner, ed., Das verfemte Meisterwerk, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2009, pp. 177-179).
[2] Not on "Harry Fischer list." Included in the exhibition Degenerate Art, Hofgarten-Arkaden, Munich, July 19-November 30, 1937 and other venues (Berlin, Leipzig, Düsseldorf, Salzburg, Hamburg, Stettin, Weimar).
[3] Included shortly thereafter in the exhibition Contemporary German Art, November 1-December 9, 1939, Institute of Modern Art, Boston.

If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please e-mail provenance@moma.org or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

Pictured above: Vasily Kandinsky. Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 2 (detail). 1914. Oil on canvas, 64 1/8 x 48 3/8" (162.6 x 122.7 cm). Nelson A. Rockefeller Fund (by exchange). © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource