Paul Klee

A Young Lady’s Adventure


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Paul Klee 1879–1940
Original title
Abenteuer eines Fräuleins
Watercolour on paper
Support: 625 × 480 mm
frame: 686 × 510 × 20 mm
Purchased 1946

Display caption

This watercolour was known as ‘The English Miss’ by students at The Bauhaus, the German art school where Klee taught. It has fairy-tale qualities, with the young woman in the centre seemingly trapped, by what one art critic called ‘oppressive spirits… The evil bird takes hold of her, while the arrow threatens to attack.’ Klee was known to use arrows in his work as a phallic symbol, so the 'young lady's adventure' referred to in the title could be sexual in nature.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry

Paul Klee 1879-1940

N05659 A Young Lady's Adventure 1922

Inscribed 'Klee' b.l.; also '1922/152' on mount b.l. and 'Abenteuer eines Fräuleins' b.r.
Watercolour on paper, 17 1/4 x 12 5/8 (43.5 x 32)
Purchased from Frau Lily Klee (Knapping Fund) 1946
Exh: Lent by the artist to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Weimar, 1923-30; Paul Klee 1879-1940, National Gallery, London, December 1945-January 1946 (61); Paul Klee 1879-1940, Arts Council touring exhibition, 1946 (21, repr.)
Lit: Christian Geelhaar, Paul Klee and the Bauhaus (Bath 1973), p.54, repr. pl.23 in colour
Repr: Cahiers d'Art, 1945-6, p.33; Carola Giedion-Welcker, Paul Klee (London 1952), p.46; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1958), p.153 in colour

Will Grohmann commented on this work (letter of 14 June 1953): 'Klee had a very distant relation to women and saw in general their comic side. This mannequin-like female figure must represent a fashionable lady, who in spite of her striking elegance is more or less helpless in face of the oppressive spirits. The evil bird takes hold of her, while the arrow threatens to attack. It is probably also a "Temptation". It is amusing to recall that this watercolour was known at the Bauhaus as "The English Miss".'

Christian Geelhaar (loc. cit.), on the other hand, has tended to emphasise its erotic aspects, and has drawn attention to the significance of the arrow in various of Klee's works as a phallic symbol. 'Formally speaking this watercolour belongs to the group of colour gradations: into the olive-green grades are set red accents and these explain the nature of the maidenly adventure: in the area of tension between the red sex of the small preying animal below on the left and the young girl's lap a red shaft of lightning is discharged.'

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.387-8, reproduced p.387

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