From Japonism to Zen: Paul Klee and the Far East at The Museum of East Asian Art

Terrace, Photo, Malinka

The setting and architecture of Cologne’s Museum of East Asian Art (Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst)  already make it a must-see.

Designed by Le Corbusier student Kunio Maekawa, a monument of classical modernism, it stands at the end of  Aachener Straße in the beautiful Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Park. With idyllic views over the Aachener Weiher lake and an indoor meditation garden, the museum proves a tranquil retreat from the buzz of the city centre.

Indoor Garden in Evening, Malinka

The museum, which opened in 1977, houses one of the most significant collections of East Asian art in Europe.  It’s founder, Adolf Fischer, believed the works to be pivotal in their representation of differing creative styles and artistic trends and therefore wished them to be exhibited as more than just historical objects.

Ikeda Harumasa, Schriftzeichen «En (Kreis)», Japan, Edo-Zeit, Ende 18. bis Anfang 19. Jh.

This being the case it is not surprising that the Museum’s current exhibition ‘From Japonism to Zen: Paul Klee and the Far East’ does precisely as Fischer intended. A unique exhibition it explores for the first time Klee’s close relationship to East Asian art and the influence that it was to have on his work.

Paul Klee, Kindheit, 1938, 358,

Working in the early 1900’s, when ‘Japonism’ was a recognised fashion, Klee’s profound knowledge of Japanese culture placed him apart from the trend and saw him produce original and authentic pieces. In his own words: ‘One should be doing this sort of thing as well, not just imitating it.’


By showing over 90 of Klee’s works alongside over 90 corresponding pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition precisely documents his various interactions with East Asian art. From the Japanese ink painting and calligraphy that inspired Klee’s 1930’s ‘writing pictures’  to his engagement with East Asian literature and spirituality, every aspect has been addressed. 


The final part of the exhibition contains a contemporary twist and we witness the influence that Klee himself has had on the work of seven current Japanese artists. There is a satisfying circularity to seeing Klee’s ‘Angelus’ satirised in a Manga comic, a clear testament to his remarkable relationship with East Asian Art.

der Schrank

‘From Japonism to Zen: Paul Klee and the Far East’ will be on show until 1 February 2015.