Osamu Okuda



It’s fairly well known that American dramatist and scriptwriter Clifford Odets (1906-1963) collected many artworks by Paul Klee shortly after World War II. A photograph taken in 1951 showing Odets in his study next to a wall covered with closely hung Klee works offers particularly important historical documentation of the reception that Klee’s works received in the United States and has often appeared in essays and catalogues focusing on that theme However, very little research has been conducted on how Odets built his Klee collection or what specific works it included. In fall of last year, I started investigating the many unknown aspects of Odets’ Klee collection as part of an editing project for a digital edition of Klee’s oeuvre. In the process, I began to feel it was necessary not just to reconstruct Odets’ collection, but to understand it in terms of his work as a dramatist and the historical conditions in which he lived. This article is an interim report on the progress I’ve made thus far.


  1. Quoted by Brenman-Gibson, in Brenman-Gibson 1981, p. 9.
  2. cf. Catalogues, New York 1996, New York 2002, New York 2006.
  3. cf. Harmon 1989, p. 16.
  4. Ibid., p. 16.
  5. I received instructions from Peter G. Neumann about this. I would like to express my gratitude for his support. 
  6. cf. Herr 2003, p. 21.
  7. Pollack 1999, p. 265.
  8. cf. Letter of Jsrael Ber Neumann to Paul Klee, 01.12.1938, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Schenkung Familie Klee: »Ich bin seit 1930 in immer steigendem Masse in Ihr Werk verliebt. Das ist Alles.«
  9. cf. Neumann 1930, p. 3.
  10. cf. Harter / Wiese 2011.
  11. Odets 1988, p. 348.
  12. McBride 1951, p. 35.
  13. Letter from Karl Nierendorf to Rolf Bürgi, February 1946, Archiv Bürgi im Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Schenkung Familie Bürgi: »Mr. J. B. Neumann from the New Art Circle has under consideration ›Aunt and Child‹ and ›Hard Plants‹ at a customer. These are the only two works that will be sold.«
  14. Letter from an unknown sender to Clifford Odets, July 31 1946. Copy SAF ZPK.
  15. McBride 1951, p. 37.
  16. Letter from an unknown sender to Clifford Odets, July 31 1946. Copy SAF ZPK.
  17. Letter from Clifford Odets to J. B. Neumann, June 23, 1947. Quoted by Harmon in Harmon 1989, p. 23.
  18. Letter from Karl Nierendorf to Clifford Odets, August 8, 1947, Lily Harmon papers, 1930-1996, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Copy SAF ZPK: »In your letter you say, that of 55 Klees, you bought only 4 or 5 from me. […] Most of your Klees have passed through my hands … you bought them indirectly from J. B. and other dealers or private collectors.«
  19. Letter from Clifford Odets to J. B. Neumann, June 14, 1947, quoted by Harmon in Harmon 1989, p. 23.
  20. McBride 1951, p. 37.
  21. Anonym 1947, p. 48.
  22. Ibid., p. 49.
  23. Paintings by Paul Klee. Clifford Odets Collection, Curt Valentin Papers, III B 8, Museum of Modern Art Library, New York.
  24. cf. Richardson 1999, p. 227.
  25. Waldstein 1929, p. 47.
  26. Cohen 2010, p. 102.
  27. cf. http://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2906?locale=en
  28. Klee 1998-2004, vol. 9, no. 6762a.
  29. Letter from Curt Valentin to Clifford Odets, without date (ca. Jun 1947). Curt Valentin Papers, Museum of Modern Art Library, New York.
  30. Letter from Curt Valentin to Clifford Odets, September 16, 1947. Curt Valentin Papers, Museum of Modern Art Library, New York.
  31. cf. Catalogue, San Francisco/Portland/Detroit /St. Louis/New York/Washington/Cincinnati 1949/1950, no. 39.
  32. Letter from an unknown sender to Clifford Odets, July 31 1946. Copy SAF ZPK.
  33. cf. Catalogue, Philadelphia 1944, no. 47.
  34. Huggler 1969, p. 93.
  35. cf. Catalogue, New York 1952, no. 28.
  36. cf. Scott 1998.
  37. cf. Catalogue, New York 1966, lot 59.
  38. Hultberg 2001, p. 26.
  39. cf. Catalogue, New York 1969, lot. 74, 75, 76, 77.
  40. Odets 1961, without pages.
  41. Letters from Clifford Odets to J. B. Neumann, June 14, 1947, quoted by Harmon in Harmon 1989, p. 23.
  42. cf. Haxthausen 2006, p. 171.
  43. Greenberg 1941, p. 229.
  44. cf. Herr 2003 p. 94.
  45. Klee 1948, pp. 54-55.
  46. Clifford 1959, without pages.


Monographs and essays

Anonym 1947

Anonym, »Clifford Odets«, Reviews & Previews, in: Art News, February 1947, pp. 48-49.

Brenman-Gibson 1981

Margaret Brenman-Gibson, Clifford Odets. American Playwright. The Years from 1906 to 1940, New York 1981.

Cohen 2010

Lola Cohen, The Lee Strasberg Notes, New York 2010.

Greenberg 1941

Clement Greenberg, »On Paul Klee (1879-1940)«, in: Partisan Review, vol. 8, no. 3, May-June 1941, pp. 224-229.

Harmon 1989

Lily Harmon, »The Art Dealer and the Playwright: J. B. Neumann and Clifford Odets«, in: Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 29, no. 1&2, 1989, pp.16-26.

Harter / Wiese 2011

Ursula Harter, Stephan von Wiese (ed.), Max Beckmann und J.B. Neumann. Der Künstler und sein Händler in Briefen und Dokumenten 1917-1950, Köln 2011.

Haxthausen 2006

Charles Werner Haxthausen, »A ›degenerate‹ abroad: Klee’s reception in America, 1937-1940«, in: Catalogue, Klee and America, Neue Galerie, New York, 10.03.-22.5.2006; The Phillips Collection, Washington, 16.06.-10.09.2006; The Menil Collection, Houston, 06.10.2006-14.01.2007, pp. 158-177.

Herr 2003

Christopher J. Herr, Clifford Odets and American political theater, Westport 2003.

Huggler 1969

Max Huggler, Paul Klee. Die Malerei als Blick in den Kosmos, Frauenfeld/Stuttgart 1969.

Hultberg 2001

John Hultberg, »Breaking the Picture Plane: Reflections on Painting«, in: Art Criticism, vol. 17, 2001, no. 1, pp. 6-45.

Klee 1948

Paul Klee, On Modern Art, London 1948.

Klee 1998-2004

Paul Klee. Catalogue raisonée, ed. by the Paul-Klee-Stiftung of the Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern 1908-2004, 9 vols.

McBride 1951

Henry McBride, »Rockefeller, Whitney, Senior, Odets, Colin«, in: Art news, vol. 50, no. 4, June-July-August 1951, pp. 34-37; 59-60.

Neumann 1930

Jsrael Ber Neumann, »Paul Klee«, in: Artlover, Bd. 3, no. 1, 1930, pp. 3-7.

Odets 1959

Odets Clifford, “The world of Paul Klee”, in: Artlover. J. B. Neumann’s Bilderhefte. Anthologie d’un marchand d’art, New York 1959.

Odets 1961

Clifford Odets, »Willem de Kooning, the painter«, in: Catalogue, Willem de Kooning, 1961, Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills, without pages.

Odets 1988

Clifford Odets, The Time is Ripe: The 1940 Journal of Clifford Odets, New York 1988.

Pollack 1999

Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland. The life and work of an uncommon man, New York 1999.

Richardson 1999

John Richardson, The sorcerer’s apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper, New York 1999.

Scott 1998

Yvonne Scott, »Paul Klee’s ›Anima errante‹ in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin«, in: The Burlington Magazine, vol. 140, no. 1146, September 1998, pp. 615-618.

Waldstein 1929

Agnes Waldstein (ed.), Museum Folkwang, Band 1, Moderne Kunst, Essen 1929.

Catalogues of exhibitions and auctions

Philadelphia 1944

Paul Klee. Paintings, Drawings, Prints. The Philadelphia Art Alliance, 2nd Floor Galleries, 14.03.-09.04.1944.

San Francisco/Portland/Detroit /St. Louis/New York/Washington/Cincinnati 1949/1950

Paintings, drawings, and prints by Paul Klee from the Klee Foundation, Berne, Switzerland with additions from American collections, San Francisco Museum of Art, 24.03.-02.05.1949; Portland Art Museum, 16.05.-21.06.1949; The Detroit Institute of Arts, 15.09.-09.10.1949; The City Art Museum of St. Louis, 03.11.-05.12.1949; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 20.12.1949-14.02.1950; The Phillips Gallery, Washington, D.C., 04.03.-10.04.1950; The Cincinnati Art Museum, 19.04.-24.05.1950.

New York 1952

Paul Klee, New Art Circle J. B. Neumann, New York, 13.04.-30.05.1952.

New York 1966

The Collection of Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculptures Formed by the Late G. David Thompson of Pittsburgh. PA. New York, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc, 23.-24.03.1966.

New York 1996

In Hell + Why: Clifford Odets, Paintings on Paper from the 1940s and 1950s, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 11.04-08.06.1996.

New York 2002

Clifford Odets: Paradise Lost, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 09.05-29.06.2002.

New York 2006

It’s Your Birthday, Clifford Odets! A Centennial Exhibition, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, 19.05.-04.08.2006.