In April 1933, Paul Klee was fired from the Düsseldorf Academy, where he had been teaching painting for two years. All his works purchased from public museums were confiscated. In the eyes of the Nazis, who had risen to power three months earlier, Klee represented the quintessence of what they considered “degenerate art”. Following his wife’s insistence, he fled to Switzerland. In the tedious artistic environment of his hometown, Bern, he worked on a great variety of techniques and subjects. Also, he was constantly oscillating between abstraction and representation, dream and realism, poetry and irony.
In Dynamics of a head, the painter expresses his interest in a facial reconstruction through the accumulation of geometric shapes. The painting stands out from similar paintings of that period thanks to colour. And it’s not about any colour: the basic ones, yellow, blue and red, laid one over the other, give the complementary ones, green, orange and violet. To them, is also added the black used for drawing the outlines. The predominant colour in the composition, red, is presented in hues ranging from the purest to the most blended, sometimes combined with blue and others with black. The eyes, one orange and the other yellow, appear with even greater vividness, thus expressing the artist’s clear intention to create a head. The viewer has only to contemplate in his own way in order to find the nose, the chin, the forehead, and the shoulders supporting the head. Therefore, Klee manages, with these two simple circles, to break the abstract character of the painting by introducing a more complex form of representation.
For Klee, colour has only one competitor, music. A talented violinist himself, he never ceased to incorporate the lessons he learned from music into his painting. The term “dynamics” in the title of the work, unusual in visual arts language, may refer to the world of music: dynamics, also called embellishment, indicates the range of sounds an instrument can reach, depending on what a musician wants to produce. Like colours, musical instruments need to be controlled by those using them, in order to deploy their potential. Therefore, “dynamics” could mean, in the case of this painting, not only the variations of the head, changing according to the viewer’s angle, but also the range of colours which, thanks to their intense hue, highlight the image. It also serves to create, by using the mind, the perspective of forms, which is not indicated by the use of shadows at all.
Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Paris
The Mayor Gallery, London
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris
Etienne Ader, Paris
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Jane Engelhard, Newark
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Private collection, since 1972
Berne, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 23 February - 24 March 1935, no. 94
Basel, Kunsthalle, Paul Klee, 27 October - 24 November 1935, no. 80
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, March - April 1964
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Paul Klee, 26 June - 12 September 1993, no. 80, ill.
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Classics of Modern Art, 27 June - 19 September 1999, p. 120-123, ill. p. 121
Tableaux modernes, Palais Galliéra sale, Paris, 25 November 1965, no. 47, ill.
Surrealism, ed. Herbert Read, London, 1936, ill.
Shuzo Takiguchi and Tiroux Yamanaka, “Album surréaliste”, Mizue, special issue, no. 74, May 1937, ill.
Herbert Read, “Imagination and Phantasy”, XXe siècle, vol. I, no. 4, 1938, pp. 31-33, ill.
Christian Rumelin, Catalogue Raisonné Paul Klee, vol. 7 (1934-1938), ed. Paul Klee Stiftung and Kunstmuseum Berne, Benteli, Berne, Thames and Hudson, London and New York