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Angelus Novus

Angelus Novus

1879, Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland – 1940, Muralto, Switzerland

Angelus Novus

Oil transfer and watercolor on paper

31.8 x 24.2 cm

Gift of Fania and Gershom Scholem, Jerusalem; John Herring, Marlene and Paul Herring, Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, New York

Public Domain
Accession number:

B87.0994

Arts/Prints & Drawings

Paul Klee’s singular drawing Angelus Novus, with its evocation of mystical realms, has a history that echoes the philosophical and political turbulence of its time. It was created during a breakthrough year in Klee’s career: in 1920 he had his first large-scale exhibition in Munich, was about to join the Weimar Bauhaus, and completed his artistic credo, “Creative Confession,” in which he set forth his metaphysical perception of reality. The supernatural beings that inhabit Klee’s work—during the last years of his life he created some fifty celestial angels—must be understood in that metaphysical context.

This drawing intrigued the German Jewish philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), who purchased it in 1921. After World War II Benjamin’s lifelong friend, Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), the distinguished scholar of Jewish mysticism, inherited the drawing. According to Scholem, Benjamin felt a mystical identification with the Angelus Novus and incorporated it in his theory of the “angel of history,” a melancholy view of historical process as an unceasing cycle of despair. In September 1940 Walter Benjamin committed suicide during a thwarted attempt to flee the Nazi regime.

There is something almost mystical about the presence in Israel’s national museum of this pivotal work, once the prized possession of two of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. In a curious final coincidence, Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of this drawing became the inspiration for German artist Anselm Kiefer’s sculpture Angel of History: Poppy and Memory, 1989, also in the Israel Museum collection.

From the Israel Museum publications:

Zalmona, Yigal, ed., The Israel Museum at 40: Masterworks of Beauty and Sanctity, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2005

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005

Beauty and Sanctity: the Israel Museum at 40. A Series of Exhibitions Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Zalmona, Yigal, 2006

3x50@50: IMJ Collection Highlights, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2015

Muchawsky-Schnapper, Ester, "Paul Klee's 'Angelus Novus', Walter Benjamin and Gershom Sholem", The Israel Museum Journal VIII, pp. 47-52

Exhibitions:

Angelus Novus, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 22/06/1982 - 20/07/1982

The Beauty of Sanctity: Masterworks from Every Age, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 29/03/2005 - 12/11/2005

Dada Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum, 2007

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by:
Nancy Wald, in honor of the memory of Benjamin Miller