paul’s puppets

Felix Klee’s theatre set with the puppet characters of Kasperl and the Devil. 1924.

In a little to-and-fro in the previous Artlog post’s comment-box, I told Bev about a puppet theatre and puppets made by Paul Klee for his son Felix. For today’s post I thought I’d show some images culled from this marvellous collection.

Mr Death and Sepperl.

Puppet enthusiasts will find all they need to know about Paul Klee and the wonderful toys made for Felix between the covers of the informative book Paul Klee Hand Puppets published by Hatje Cantz.

Top: Felix Klee in 1988 with the self-portrait glove-puppet made by his father. Above: head of the puppet made from beef-bone and plaster.

From 1916 to 1925 some fifty glove puppets were fashioned by Paul Klee for Felix, thirty of which survive. They are made from an eclectic range of materials, among which are beef bones, electrical sockets, brushes and pieces cut from discarded clothes. In the design of the puppets Klee played with the art movements of his time, including Dada and Bauhaus. There are characters among the cast which are based on the popular Kasperl Theater, but later the artist created extraordinary puppets with characteristics and names that were uniquely his own inventions. Here are some of them.

Top: Bearded Frenchman. Above: Spectre of the Matchbox.

Barber of Baghdad.

Electrical Spook.

Big-Eared Clown.

Top: Ghost of a Scarecrow, Bandit and White-Haired Eskimo. Above: Black Spectre, Electrical Spook and Old Man.

31 thoughts on “paul’s puppets

  1. Pingback: 4. Patchwork Dads – Paul Klee | Alison Sye

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  4. Clive, I too have that Albert Herbert catalogue from England & Co! That’s where I first saw his work, which I love.

    I’ve now followed your link to the charming Calder puppet movie, another aspect of Calder I was unaware of , though I’ve always loved his mobiles and his wire ‘drawings’.
    Your own puppet collection is marvellous and inspirational. Once upon a time I thought I might take up puppettry but it’s one of the side-roads I didn’t follow.

    Here’s a YouTube video about the Sicilian puppet theatre which I think you’ll enjoy:

    • Many thanks for that lovely puppet film Natalie. With such enthusiastic support from visitors to this site, Puppet Week at the Artlog is going to be most entertaining. Interesting that you once thought of being a puppeteer, because I never thought about it for a moment, but then became one when I left stage school.

  5. Clive, these are fabulous, thanks so much for posting them. Paul Klee is one of my favourite artists but I was completely unaware of his puppets – his son was certainly a lucky child!

    And better late than never, thank you too for your marvellous toy theatre pictures. Your little stages are beautiful and strike deep chords in me since I’ve always loved making boxes/constructions with objects inside. If you ever come to London, I’ll show you some of them.

    Do you know of the artist Albert Herbert?

    • Hello Natalie. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post.

      Paul Klee’s glove-puppets are a delight and a wonderful counterpoint to his work as a painter. Before ever I saw the puppets I’d so often looked at Klee and been taken by the way in which many of his compositions reminded me of the toy-theatre, a fact underlined by the small scale he favoured.

      Like you Natalie I’ve always been compelled to make. As a child I was given a thick pile of old toy-theatre sheets by an actor-friend of my parents, and they paved the way to my love of stage sets made up in layers of wings, headers, cut-cloths and backdrops. (How I wish I had those Pollock’s scenic sheets now. There were hundreds of them, an incredible bounty of architecture, sea and landscape prints. However my parents moved house when I was away at school in London, and I realise now that there were many things I didn’t see again… including the toy-theatre sheets… after my return to Wales and a new home downsized into a small flat.)

      I first saw the work of Albert Herbert in the home of my friends Robert and Annie MacDonald. (Robert is a very good painter.) They had been friends of Herbert’s and there were two or three paintings of his in their collection that I had always been drawn to. Later I was able to purchase a slender retrospective catalogue produced by his dealer England & Co, which is the only published account of his work I’ve been able to get my hands on. I think him a remarkable painter. There was a time when the Herbert catalogue was never far from my hand, alongside books about the work of Ken Kiff and Mary Newcomb.

      If you’ve enjoyed the Klee puppets you should try clicking on the link in my reply to Thombeau below, which will take you to an extract from a film showing Alexander Calder giving a performance of his famous toy circus. It’s full of maker’s ingenuity and delightfully illustrates the artist’s showmanship and humour.

    • With the booth and its cast of actors, the artist created the gift that kept on giving. Throughout his life Felix Klee offered performances on the puppet stage that his father had made for him. I find that deeply moving.

    • Thank you Thom. I love Klee’s work too, and the puppets enhance my appreciation of him as a painter.

      Did you know that Alexander Calder made a toy circus out of wire, and that he often gave performances with it? Our friend Clarissa is the daughter of John and Myfanwy Piper… the former the famous British painter and the latter the acclaimed writer and librettist of Benjamin Britten operas… who were close friends with the Calders. As a girl Clarissa attended the Calder circus, an experience she recalls with delight. You can see a film of the artist performing with his toy circus HERE. A staggering feat of artistry and wit.

  6. I’ll try to find the photos sometime soon. As you might guess, most of my belongings are still in boxes, but I believe I may have seen that particular box last week while moving things from one space to another in preparation for plastering walls upstairs (see most recent blog post about that!). I shall try to relocate the box of photos!

  7. These are extraordinary, I have only glimpsed at the article briefly, i will search your site more thoughtfully. Thom of ChateauThombeau/Form is Void, “introduced ” me to your work (which is marvelous) and this site.
    I am so pleased.
    Until next time,

  8. Ha! What a treat! Thank you for putting together a post on Paul Klee’s puppets! I quite like the Electrical Spook, Black Spectre, and Ghotst of a Scarecrow. Well, in fact, they are all cool. Inspiring, in fact. I used to like making puppets, masks, and such. A few years ago, I carved wooden marionettes in the likeness of my brother and his then girlfriend. If able to find some photos, I shall put them up sometime soon.

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