Our World

Yves Klein

Art & Design

“I have written my name on the far side of the sky.”

Installation view, Blenheim Palace, Yves Klein, Relief Portrait of Arman, Relief Portrait of Claude Pascal

A day before Yves Klein married his wife Rotraut, he purchased a small antique crown and painted it blue so she could wear it on her wedding day. His wife was known to have said, “He was the King of Blue and I was his Queen”.

The son of two artists, Klein was deeply spiritual. He believed beauty existed in an invisible form and that an artist’s role was to “grab beauty wherever it was to be found and reveal it to others”. Klein once said in an interview that he had been seduced by the cerulean colour of the Mediterranean blue skies. In 1956, with the help of chemist Édouard Adam, Klein found a way to suspend his favourite ultramarine pigment in a petroleum extract, allowing it to maintain its saturated colour and powdery texture without dulling its brilliance. This new colour was patented as ‘International Klein Blue’, or today known as IKB. It dominated his work until his young death at 34, in 1962 from a heart attack, only five months after his wedding.

Left Image: Relief Portrait of Arman, 1962 – one of a pair of life-casts of childhood friends of the artist, on gold-leaf panels.

Installation view, Blenheim Palace, Yves Klein, Untitled Blue Monochrome.

Blue Venus sculptures (1962) recalling Classical Antiquity, within the Baroque setting of the Saloon.

Klein loved magic and showmanship. In 1957 he released 1,001 blue helium balloons into the sky to mark the opening of his one man show in Paris. There is also a story that he sent out thousands of postcards with Klein blue postage stamps that he had bribed the postal authorities to accept. In 1958 he invited 3,000 people to a private exhibit which consisted of an empty cabinet in an empty room. He gave everyone a blue balloon and a blue cocktail. One of the most celebrated and remembered performances was held in March 1960, when he painted three nude models in his famous blue and had them imprint their bodies onto large white canvases in front of an audience of one hundred guests to witness the creation of art. Dressed in a suit with a bow tie, Klein conducted nine musicians playing his composition named ‘Monotone-silence Symphony’, which consisted of a single high pitched note for 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes of complete silence. He wanted their bodies to be free to create their own beauty by being human paint brushes and freeing their souls. They “manifest the conception inherent in judo that the body is a centre of physical, sensorial, a spiritual energy, and that its power resides in the disciplined release of its energy to the outside". Klein had studied at the renowned Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan and was strongly influenced by Zen philosophy and the ‘void’ of Japanese Buddhist thought.

In 2013, Christie’s sold a Klein natural sea sponge sculpture saturated in his signature blue for $22 million USD. His legacy will live on forever. He is one of our most recognizable and loved artists of the 20th century. His archive is located in Phoenix, Arizona, where his wife Rotraut has a home with her husband Daniel.

Image Left: Yves Klein - Archisponge (RE 11), 1960. Courtesy Sotheby’s New York

Pluie bleue, 1957, suspended from the ceiling of the Great Hall & A carpet of blue in the Great Hall – Pure Pigment installation, 2018.