Senecio, 1922 – Paul Klee

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was born in Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland, and is considered both a German and a Swiss] painter. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. He was also a student of orientalism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually mastered colour theory, and wrote extensively about it; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory(Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are considered so important for modern art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo da Vinci‘s A Treatise on Painting had for Renaissance. He and his colleague, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the German Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Completed in 1922, Senecio is a manifestation of Paul’s sense of humor and African culture. The simple colors and shapes, Paul makes use of various shades of orange, red, and yellow to reveal portrait of an old man. Artistic use of shapes gives the false impression that one eye browse is raised. His left eye brow is represented by a triangle while the other one is made of a simple curved line. The portrait is also called Head of a Man Going Senile and intentionally mimics children’s artwork by using ambiguous shapes and forms with minimal facial details. 

This adaptation of the human face is divided by colour into rectangles. Flat geometric squares are held within a circle representing a masked face and displaying the multi-coloured costume of a harlequin. A portrait of the artist performer Senecio, it can be seen as a symbol of the shifting relationship between art, illusion and the world of drama. This painting demonstrates Klee’s principles of art, in which the graphic elements of line, colour planes and space are set in motion by an energy from the artist’s mind. In his imaginative doodlings, he liked, in his own words, to “take a line for a walk”. 

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