1928 - 1953

The Heartbeat of France Portrait of Yves Klein during the shooting of Peter Morley "The Heartbeat of France", 1961
Charles Wilp's studio, Düsseldorf, Germany
© Photo : Charles Wilp / BPK, Berlin

Yves Klein, born in 1928 in Nice, had as a first vocation to be a judoka. It was only back in Paris, in 1954, that he dedicated himself fully to art, setting out on his ‘adventure into monochrome’.

Animated by a quest to ‘liberate colour from the prison that is the line’, Yves Klein directed his attention to the monochrome which, to him, was the only form of painting that allowed to ‘make visible the absolute’.

By choosing to express feeling rather than figurative form, Yves Klein moved beyond ideas of artistic representation, conceiving the work of art instead as a trace of communication between the artist and the world; invisible truth made visible. His works, he said, were to be ‘the ashes of his art’, traces of that which the eye could not see.

Yves Klein’s practice revealed of new way of conceptualising the role of the artist, conceiving his whole life as an artwork. ‘Art is everywhere that the artist goes’, he once declared. According to him, beauty existed everywhere, but in a state of invisibility. His task was to to capture beauty wherever it might be found, in matter as in air.

The artist used blue as the vehicle for his quest to capture immateriality and the infinite. His celebrated bluer-than-blue hue, soon to be named ‘IKB’ (International Klein Blue), radiates colourful waves, engaging not only the eyes of the viewer, but in fact allowing us see with our souls, to read with our imaginations.

From monochromes, to the void, to his ‘technique of living brushes’ or ‘Anthropometry’; by way of his deployment of nature’s elements in order to manifest their creative life-force; and his use of gold as a portal to the absolute; Yves Klein developed a ground-breaking practice that broke down boundaries between conceptual art, sculpture, painting, and performance.

Just before dying, Yves Klein told a friend, "I am going to go into the biggest studio in the world, and I will only do immaterial works." 

Between May 1954 and June 6, 1962, the date of his death, Yves Klein burned his life to make a flamboyant work that marked his era and still shines today.
  • 1928 - 1953

    The beginnings of artworks

    Born in Nice in 1928, to Fred Klein (1898-1990) and Marie Raymond (1908-1989), both painters, Yves Klein is an autodidact. During his childhood the  family lives between Paris and Nice. At a very young age, Yves works in his aunt’s bookshop in Nice where he befriends the future artist Arman and the poet Claude Pascal.

    Inclined to traveling, between 1948 and 1953 he first goes to Italy, then to England - where he works at a frame maker’s learning gold-leaf gilding- to Ireland, Spain and finally to Japan.

    Over these years he devotes a lot of time to judo: holder of the prestigious rank of 4th Dan, he teaches it regularly and documents it with films and writings. From the end of the 40’s his travel diaries mention the creation of monochromes on paper, while at the same time, he imagines a Monotone-Silence Symphony and writes film scripts on art.
    • 1928-1938

      Yves Klein was born on 28th April 1928 in Nice to Frederic Klein – aka Fred Klein (Bandung, 1898 - Paris, 1990), a Dutch figurative painter born himself in Indonesia. His mother, nee Marie Raymond (La Colle-sur-Loup, 1908 - Paris, 1989), is at the time a young artist who will eventually become a well-known abstract painter.

      files/media_file_10.jpg Marie Raymond, 1948 ca.
      Photo © Willy Maywald

      Yves spent his younger years between Cagnes-sur-Mer at La Goulette, an old property located at the Haut-de-Cagnes, Paris and its suburbs, and Nice, where the family finds shelter at Marie’s parents during more difficult periods. He also spent quite some time in Nice at his aunt’s, Rose Raymond. Her tender love for him, as well as her protection and financial support will extend throughout his lifetime.

      1928_2 Fred Klein, 1948 ca.
      Photo © All rights reserved

      In 1937, Marie and Fred will take part in the Paris Universal Exhibition on the theme of the four elements within the Cote d’Azur pavilion, an artwork sponsored by the Grasse Perfumes Association.
    • 1939 → 1946

      The war takes the Klein's by surprise in Cagnes sur Mer. They sell the Goulette and rent a house in Haut de Cagnes, associate with Nicolas de Staël settled in Nice with his partner Jeanne Guiillou and her son, Antek, a playfellow of Yves. They come across the group of Grasse: Alberto Magnelli, Jean Arp, Sophie Tauber, Sonia and Robert Delaunay etc.

      Back in Paris, between 1946 and 1954, once a week on Mondays, Marie Raymond brings together the representatives of the art and litterary worlds, painters of all trends as well as artists of the new generation. Every now and then, when he is in Paris, Yves attends these evenings.

    • 1947-1948

      Back in Nice in 1947, he works at the bookshop set up by Rose Raymond for him in her shop.

      Having registered with the Police Headquarters judo club, Yves Klein meets Claude Pascal and Armand Fernandez, the future Arman.

      1947_1 Yves Klein at the Nice Judo School, 1952 ca.
      Photo © J. Nocenti

      Gathered by a great attraction for physical exercise, they all yearn for the "adventure" of travel, creation, spirituality. Judo was for Yves the first experience of "spiritual" space.

      On the beach of Nice, the three friends choose to "share the world": to Armand returns the land and its riches, to Claude Pascal the air, and to Yves the sky and its infinity:

      "As an adolescent, I wrote my name on the back of the sky in a fantastic realistico-imaginary journey, stretched out on a beach one day in Nice … I have hated birds ever since for trying to make holes in my greatest and most beautiful work! Away with the birds!"
      Yves Klein, excerpt from « Truth becomes Reality », 1960, Overcoming the problematics of Art -The writings of Yves Klein, Spring Publications, 2007

      1948-1954_2 Yves Klein and Claude Pascal in the streets of Nice, 1948 ca.
      Photo © All rights reserved

      In August, he hitch-hikes to Italy : Genoa, Portofino, Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Capri, Ischia, Pompeii, Reggio, Palermo, Messina, Venice, then returns to Nice. 

      On 18th November, he leaves to perform his military service in the French occupied area in Germany, near the Constance Lake (Bodensee).

      He works on a Monotone-silence Symphony, a music composition on a single note followed by a long silence, which can be considered as the sound equivalent to monochrome painting.
    • 1949

      Having fulfilled his military duties, Yves travels to England with Claude Pascal to improve his English. He gets a job in London with Robert Savage, the framer, who had worked on Fred Klein’s 1946 exhibition in London in 1946. This experience will contribute to teach him thoroughness in the workplace. In particular, he focuses on gold gilding. He simultaneously carries on with his judo practice.

      Yves crafts his first monochromes between the end of 1949 and early 1950’s, using gouache and pastel on paper or cardboard, and shows them to his friends in his London room.
    • 1950

      Yves and Claude leave London on April 4th 1950, and travel to Dublin, Ireland. They soon settle there and work at the Jockey Hall, an equitation club. 

      1950_2 Yves Klein in Ireland, 1950
      Photo © All rights reserved

      On August 28th, he returns to London, resumes his activities at Savage’s, and then travels back to Nice in December.

      1950_portrait_1 Yves Klein in Ireland, 1950
      Photo © All rights reserved

    • 1951

      On February 3rd 1951, Yves Klein leaves for Madrid in order to study Spanish. At first, Claude Pascal and Yves Klein had planned an initiatory round-the-world tour, but health issues prevented Pascal from taking part. Yves pursues his judo quest, visits museums and travels to Toledo. Not without difficulty, he manages to secure employment : he gives French lessons and, from April onwards, teaches judo at the Bushido Kwaï Club, where he befriends the Manager, Fernando Franco de Sarabia, an editor’s son.

      1951_2 Rose Raymond (on the left) and Yves Klein in Toledo, Spain, June 1951
      Photo © All rights reserved

      1951_4 Excerpts from Yves Klein's Journal of Spain 
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      1951_1 Yves Klein looking at Greco's "San Juan Evangelista", Musée du Prado, 1954
      Photo © All rights reserved

      In October, Yves moves to Paris, and contacts the Tokyo Franco-Japanese Institute by post.
    • 1952

      In June 1952, Yves publishes his article “On (flawed) bases, principles, etc., and the condemnation of evolution” in the first issue of the lettrist magazine “Soulèvement de la jeunesse”.

      On August 22nd, Yves boards La Marseillaise sailing to Japan. The ship will stop over in Port-Saïd, Djibouti, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon (Ho Chi Min Ville), Manilla and Hong Kong.

      1952_1 Yves Klein on the deck of "La Marseillaise" heading for Asia
      Photo © All rights reserved


      He reaches Yokohama on September 23rd, welcomed by friends of his family – including the art critic Takachiyo Uemura. He will spend fifteen months in Japan.

      1952_3 Yves Klein stops in Hong Kong, September 1952 14th-18th
      Photo © All rights reserved


      There, he divides his time between the Kôdôkan Judo Institute and the French lessons he is giving to American and Japanese students. During his stay, he works on a book about judo, which he intends to use to introduce into Europe the spirit and technique of Japanese Katas.

      1952_5 Yves Klein at the Kodokan Institute, Tokyo, 1952
      Photo © All rights reserved


    • 1953

      In January 1953, Yves earns a Black Belt-Dan 1 degree. Together with Harold Sharp, an American friend, he starts producing documentary films about judo, showing movements performed by Japanese masters. Bearing in mind the book about judo Yves is considering having published, Sharp also films his friend practising fights and “katas”.

      Yves sets up “Marie Raymond & Fred Klein” exhibitions at the Tokyo Franco-Japanese Institute and the Tokyo Bridgestone Gallery. The sale of his parents’ works helps him to finance his stay. An evening spent with friends allows him to show his gouache monochromes in his flat. 

      1954_3 Marie Raymond, Yves Klein and Fred Klein
      Photo © All rights reserved

      During the year, he suggests to a Japanese producer to make a film called “The Mark of the Instant” in his journal Sunday November 27th (1960). He designs a trial film aiming at creating abstract shapes and imprints on the support from judo movements.

      In December, the Kôdôkan awards him his fourth Dan. 

      By the end of December, he leaves Japan on board la Marseillaise, and arrives in France in the early days of February 1954.
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