The artists of Classical Modernism were affected by the aesthetics of the various Islamic cultures in a new way.
In combination with the colonisation of Africa, the Orientalist view was concentrated on the Maghreb states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and further eastwards on Libya and Egypt.
Many artists travelled to these regions in search of inspiration.
While before mostly ethnographically motivated travels had been made to the Orient, interested shifted in the beginning 20th century.
It was a journey to Tunisia in April 1914 by the three friends Paul Klee (1879-1940), August Macke (1887-1914) and Louis Moilliet (1880-1962), which has become legendary.
At the same time, it represents a cultural fascination with Islamic-Arabic culture in Europe at the start of the 20th century and a new way of looking at it, with many artists travelling in these regions on their own initiative looking for inspiration.
Since 1908 Moilliet had already travelled to Tunis three times for longer stays, during which he painted as a guest of the family of Dr Ernst Jäggi, with whom he was friends.
In his letters, he wrote about the southern vegetation and the light in Tunis and by the sea.
Mackes first reaction to the Orient was theoretical in nature, as he dealt with Arabic, ornamental and generally oriental topics from 1910 onwards.
Klee was in Munich from 1906 onwards, and developed his pictorial themes in drawings, some of them with grotesque content, and small-scale works in water colours and oils.
Nothing oriental in nature happened with him before 1914.
In September 1913 August Macke arrived with his family at the Haus Rosengarten in Hilterfingen on Lake Thun, for a stay that would last until the beginning of June 1914.
Moilliet and Macke had been friends since 1909, and kept in lively contact both privately and artistically during this period of almost eight months.
At the start of January 1914, Paul Klee came to Lake Thun.
It was on his insistence that the three of them had now finalised the trip to Tunisia that he had been discussing with Moilliet for some time, and planned this for April.
But how has this artistic journey acquired such exceptional significance?
Paul Klee was actively involved in supporting the emergence of this legend, by describing the course of the journey in his diary entries and bringing these to life with his vivid descriptions of scenes.
Seven years after their journey he produced a new version of the diaries that he had written until 1918 and enhanced the text.
A particular contribution to the creation of the myth around Klee and the journey to Tunisia came from the book Kairuan oder die Geschichte vom Maler Klee, which was published by Wilhelm Hausenstein in 1921.
Hausenstein’s text included the assumption that Klee himself deliberately voiced to him, that he might be of North African descent via his Swiss mother and her southern French roots.
This was not actually true, but Klee used it as a way of invoking the importance of Arab culture and orientalism in Europe.
August Macke died shortly after the journey to Tunisia, at the front on 26th September at the beginning of the First World War.
The works from the last six months of his life include many sketches, drawings and watercolours of Tunisia, but also reworkings of the journey in further pictures.
This may also contributed to the legendary status around their Journey to Tunisia.
Although Louis Moilliet had worked intensively in Tunisia from 1908 onwards, his contributions to the so-called Tunisian journey watercolours are small in number.
After the First World War ended, he started travelling again, and between 1919 and 1929 he produced many more watercolours in Tunisia and Morocco.
Paul Klee’s creative works show themes from Tunisia up to around 1924.
During December and January 1928/1929, he stayed in Egypt, where he drew inspirations that still influenced his late work.
This text was produced with material of “Oriental Modernism in Europe and Artistic Autonomy. The »Journey to Tunisia 1914« by the three artist friends Klee, Macke and Moilliet” by Anna M. Schafroth