Great Works: Bird Garden, 1924 (27cm x 39 cm), Paul Klee

Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

There is something utterly self-sufficient about much of the world of Paul Klee. Once inside it, and having shut the door on the hubbub of misery and awkwardness just beyond its tiny perimeters (you would be hard pushed to find a large work by Klee), you feel perfectly at ease in its company.

It offers us a kind of lightsome alternative, perpetually self-delighting and delighting us too. It does not feel solipsistic in the least. It is tangentially related to the world in which we all live, move and have our being, but it is also utterly set apart from it. Living in parallel, you might say. In part, it is a world of childish guilelessness, but then again it is not, because we also sense how immensely calculated it all is.

Klee was no untutored boy. He worked for years as a professor at the Bauhaus. In fact, it would be true to say that Klee was a gaunt, serious and besuited grown child – we see that from many of the photographs of him, and the discovery rather surprises us. Klee has thought long and hard about botany, the laws of gravity and other serious matters and then, quite deliberately, he has set them aside to do something quite different – or to do something as a kind of alternative commentary to the rules of things as we imagine them. He has, gently, set aside the world as we see it.

This lovely, fantastic, absurdly comic garden scene is as much music as painting. We feel that on our pulses as we look at it. Its lovely incongruities provoke delight. Each of those brash, small birds, so perkily self-assured, sounds like a single brazen struck note, usually quite a high note because they are treading very delicately upon the tops of all the leaves and all the plants.

Not one of them is making any impression upon these plants, many of which are quite gorgeously sculpted, or on these leaves either. They are too light and too weightless to do any damage. In fact, they are so thin and light and dancingly papery-airy, so close to a kind of blow-away nothingness, that if we look carefully, we can see right through them to the newsprint on top of which they have been magically painted into being.

Not one of them is flying. They have no such ambitions. They are perfectly, harmoniously at rest, picking their way back and forth, round and round, across the tops of equally fragile and delicate natural things. Nothing bends beneath their relative weightlessness. They walk on longish legs which look like thin sticks of carefully buntinged and tagged Blackpool rock. They are walkers or standers to a man (or a girl).

In its totality, the music of this piece resembles that of a musical box, with the pleasing circularity of that clever, always beguiling device, the way the tune insists upon going round and round and round until you almost fall asleep, spell-bound, as you listen. This picture too, though it is rectangular in shape and, though small, a little larger than we really expect to be (it has the look of a miniature), feels as if it is endlessly circling.

Yes, the picture is in motion – comic motion, of a kind – but it is also utterly frozen. It looks like a little like a frieze, never to be changed or disturbed in its delicately attuned artfulness. Tonally, it is very strange. Its murky, earthy greens make it feel almost aquatic. There is more than a hint of swimming here, and the kind of swivelly, darty movements that we expect of fish. It promises to be deep to look into – we want to look in, quite far – but our wishes are thwarted. The garden itself is, of course, pure artifice. It is a kind of prototypical paradisal scene.

There is man-made intervention here too, architectural details of a rather lovely kind, bits of lattice-work across the top (or along the bottom) of fragments of floating, wall-like structure – yes, even the illusion of a wall is robbed of its yearning towards solidity. These walls are slightly on the tilt, as if dreamily nodding off. The shapes of the leaves are leaf-shaped, but also not quite so. They are leaves which have been crisply scissored into form, quite extravagantly beautifully. They, like the birds, are permeable. When they overlap, we can often look through them.

This world of Klee's has removed all the tetherings, and we feel ourselves floating with it. The fact that two of these birds are walking upside down makes us feel that at any moment this painting could spin away from us, at first rather slowly. And when that happens, we will surely feel ourselves rather inclined to take flight too. Thank you for the invitation, Mr Klee.


Paul Klee (1879-40) was born near Berne in Switzerland. His glowing and translucent watercolours, often resembling jewel-like miniatures, bear us away into alternative elsewheres. In spite of the naivety of his vision, his art is always underpinned by rigorous theoretical questioning.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions