Catalogue entry

Paul Klee 1879-1940

N05658 They're biting 1920

Inscribed 'Klee' t.r.; '1920. Sie beissen an' on mount b.l.; 'Priv [?] 1920/6' on second mount b.l. and '56' b.r.
Watercolour over oil-colour drawing on paper, 12 ¼ x 9 ¼ (31 x 23.5)
Purchased from Frau Lily Klee (Knapping Fund) 1946
Exh: Paul Klee, Galerie Neue Kunst-Hans Goltz, Munich, May-June 1920 (238) as '1920/6 Sie beissen an'; [? Paul Klee, Galerie Vavin-Raspail, Paris, October-November 1925 (38) as 'Ça mord!']; Paul Klee 1879-1940, National Gallery, London, December 1945-February 1946 (41); Paul Klee 1879-1940, Arts Council touring exhibition, 1946 (13)
Lit: Felix Klee (ed.), The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898-1918 (London 1965), p.415; Jurgen Glaesemer, Paul Klee: Handzeichnungen I (Bern 1973), pp.258, 260, repr. p.259, preliminary drawing repr. No.660, p.276
Repr: Horizon, XII, 1945, facing p.416 in colour; Studio, CXXXVIII, 1949, p.69 in colour

Klee began to make what he called 'Ölfarbzeichnungen' (oil-colour drawings) in 1919, transferring his preliminary drawing to another sheet of paper by means of a tracing technique which has been described by Jurgen Glaesemer (op. cit.) as follows: 'He painted thin Japan paper with black oil paint, and when the paint was sufficiently dry, he placed a sheet like a tracing paper under the drawing and traced the contours of the drawing through with a metal needle. As a result the paper below showed not only the outline of the drawing in a new way, but also the deliberately distributed patches and structures of the oil paint made by the rubbing or the placing of the hand during the tracing process'. His first drawings made in this way were left uncoloured, but he afterwards used many drawings of this type as the basis for watercolours.

The preliminary drawing in lead pencil for this particular work is in the Paul Klee Foundation at the Kunstmuseum, Bern. It is dated 1919 and is inscribed on the mount '1919 | 255 "Sie beissen an!" (zu 1920/6)'. The outlines show the marks of the needle used in the tracing. The final drawing follows the study closely, apart from a few very minor adjustments, the only major difference being the addition of the exclamation mark in the centre.

Felix Klee recalls in his appendix to his father's Diaries that they spent their holidays in the period c.1919-21 at Possenhofen on the Starnberger See, and that Klee spent much of his time there fishing. For a discussion of Klee's paintings of fish, including works of a more symbolic and complex kind, see the article by Richard Verdi, 'Paul Klee's "Fish Magic": an Interpretation' in Burlington Magazine, CXVI, 1974, pp.147-54; this work is reproduced on p.155.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.386-7, reproduced p.386