Swiss painter and sculptor. The approximately fifty glove puppets that the celebrated artist Paul Klee created for his son Felix between 1916 and 1925 in Munich and in Weimar are still relatively unknown. Thirty of them have been preserved and were shown for the first time in 1979 at an exhibition held at the Neufchâtel Museum of Art and History. They stand witness to the importance of puppets, sculpture, reliefs, masks and theatre props in Paul Klee’s work. Although marginal, there is a certain theatrical character in Klee’s work which goes well beyond his other work that includes numerous critiques of operas and performances, as well as several essays on the subject of puppets, masks and music. He did, in effect, see theatrical reality as a world of likenesses, sounds and images. About sixty among the ten thousand works created by Klee are three-dimensional and, of this number, some fifty are glove puppets.
Klee became interested in the plastic arts around 1915 and preferred to use plaster of Paris for his works, especially for the heads of his puppets that are also mostly made of this material. The puppets’ clothes, except for the early ones that were sewn by Sasha von Sinner, were made by Klee himself with bits and pieces of leftover fabric in a variety of colours and textures that he found at home. The strange characters he created bear witness to a strong sense for the dramatic, parody, satire and a sense of humour in their creator. In 1916, Klee also built a theatre for his son. The sets, unfortunately lost to us, consisted of leftover fabric affixed to a large piece of wood and suspended in the opening of the door. A landscape with a village church painted on a canvas served as a background.
During his school years at the Bauhaus in Weimar (1920 to 1925), Klee gave free reign to his imagination, experimenting with a large variety of materials: plaster of Paris, cardboard, gauze, paper, wood, etc. A large number of his later puppets, more and more abstract and bizarre, were born of this exciting, stimulating period. Klee and his son, Felix, sometimes organized performances, often satirical and private, for their friends and colleagues.
Amongst the thirty-odd puppets that have survived, a special mention must be made of the following: Klee’s Self Portrait with large brown eyes and a fur cap, that was made in 1922 using plaster of Paris and ox bones; Death made in plaster of Paris in 1916; The Crowned Poet, plaster of Paris, 1919; The Devil, made in 1922 with plaster of Paris, gloves and metal rings; The Electric Spectre, 1923, fashioned from plaster of Paris and electric plugs. He used papier-mâché for The Black Phantom in 1924, and feathers and matchboxes for the 1925 Phantom.
- Comte, Philippe. Klee. Paris: Casterman, Nouvelles éditions françaises, 1991.
- Dorst, Tankred. Auf kleiner Bühne. Versuche mit Marionetten [On a Small Stage. Experiments with Puppets]. Munich, 1959.
- Dorst, Tankred. Geheimnis der Marionette [Secret of the Marionette]. Munich, 1957.
- Geelhaar, Christian. Paul Klee et le Bauhaus. Neuchâtel: Idées et calendes, 1972.
- Kotte, Andreas, Simone Gojan, Joël Aguet, and Pierre Lepori, eds. Theaterlexikon der Schweiz/Dictionnaire du théâtre en Suisse/Dizionario teatrale svizzero/Lexicon da teater svizzer. Berne: Chronos, 2005. (In German, French, Italian, Romansh)
- Paul Klee. Puppen, Plastiken, Reliefs, Masken, Theater. Neuchâtel: Éditions Galerie suisse de Paris, 1979. (In German, English, French)