Can you see what Paul Klee’s cat wants?
Paul Klee was born today, 18 December, in 1879. Our book Animal explains how he worked two beasts into one work
“The French artist Marcel Duchamp observed how Paul Klee’s images displayed a childlike freshness but a remarkably complex methodology,” explains our new book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World.
These qualities come together perfectly in this picture, created by Klee during his tenure as professor of art and design at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, which was, as our book states, “one of the most productive and formative periods of his career.”
Klee was in his late forties when he painted this oil and ink work on gessoed canvas. Nevertheless, there’s a wide-eyed naiveté about the picture, with the painter artfully working one animal motif into another.
“A cat’s face with a benevolent yet watchful expression fills the entire canvas,” explains our book, “while a bird is pictured at the centre of the cat’s forehead. The two animals are visible, yet their proportions suggest that they may not be occupying the same space at the same time. The bird is positioned in the mind of the cat – but it is not clear if it is a fantasy or a visualization of what the feline is seeing in front of it.
“Klee’s original use of colour contributes to the surreal tone of the composition,” our book goes on, “to the point that even the red halo surrounding the bird – a potentially dangerous indicator of its status as prey – is diluted in contrast to the heart-shaped nose of his predator, a symbol of the cat’s desire.”
All kids know cats like to chase and catch birds, but it takes a mature artist to express this infantile conception with such skill and conviction.
For more on Klee order a copy of this book; for more on his cat and many other beasts beside order a copy Animal: Exploring the Zoological World here.