Klee's art is virtually unique in the history of the Twentieth Century in that he was the only modern artist who allowed his work to roam freely between the organic and the geometric, the constructive and the intuitive, the figurative and the abstract and between the purely linear and the wholly chromatic. Displaying the joyous fluid movement of a dancer pirouetting on a stage that has been delineated solely with a single graphic line, Tänzerin (Dancer) is a rich, charming and highly evocative work belonging to an important series of so-called 'Divisionist' paintings that Klee made in the early 1930s.
These 'Divisionist' paintings were made mainly in Dusseldorf after Klee moved there in October 1931. After Klee's contract with the Bauhaus had expired in April of that year Klee had become a teacher at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art. Klee felt much at ease in Dusseldorf. 'Life here is easy and friendly' he wrote to his wife Lily who remained with their son Felix in their home in Dessau. 'Even if Dusseldorf does not harbour all the geniuses that are found in Dessau,' Klee wrote her, 'one senses the artistic saturation and one feels at home. Conservative minds also grapple intensely with the New, and being often more honest than the Modernist, that makes them sometimes more interesting' (Paul Klee, quoted in Paul Klee, exh. cat., New York, 1989, p. 252).
For the next two years, Klee commuted every two weeks between Dessau and Dusseldorf, maintaining studios in both cities and coming to develop separate styles in each. In Dusseldorf, Klee practically lived in his studio at the Academy, working from eight in the morning to eight at night every day except Sundays when the building was not heated. This studio was known throughout the Academy for the delicious odours that often emanated from it when Klee, a gourmet, frequently prepared his fine and elaborate meals on the two spirit stoves he had had installed in it. According to his son Felix, Klee at this time worked in Dessau in a more 'severe constructive style' while it was in Dusseldorf that the 'pointillistic, loose mosaic style' of his 'Divisionist pictures was created' (Felix Klee quoted ibid, p. 248).
Distinguishing his Dusseldorf style at this time, Klee's 'Divisionism' grew from a practice of creating a ground of shimmering colour and light that Klee had first developed in the 1920s. Comprising of a mosaic-like ground of slowly, almost imperceptibly changing mosaic-like dots of colour, Klee gave the name 'Divisionist' to these paintings so that what he also called his 'crop of dots' would not be confused with the Neo-Impressionism of Georges Seurat for example. The unique'pointillism' that Klee developed in these works differed fundamentally from that of Seurat and his followers, who broke down the imagery of their paintings into tiny dots of pure colour while Klee seemingly built up his surfaces through an apparently concrete use of row upon row of mosaic block-like coloured units chosen without any regard to optical laws. Klee's aim was neither to make colour and light coincide nor to encourage them to mix in the viewer's eye but to create a rich, almost oriental sense of a near-mystical shimmering space infused with a sense of coloured light. As Will Grohman has written, these paintings depict 'nothing but coloured luminous space, where the colours are 'the actions and passions of light' - pictures that are 'acts of the universe' (Novalis)... There is no outside and inside; the Divisionist schema does not presuppose a phenomenal world ...[It is] not a limitation imposed upon the possibilities, but a device for intensifying them; everything is subordinated to it, the inner and outer eye in perfect harmony' (W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, New York, 1968, p. 124).
Klee called one of the pictures he executed in this technique Polyphony - a musical term describing a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices. It is this kind of double working theme that also distinguishes his other Divisonist pictures of this period such as Tänzerin, where the shimmering field of colour and light is subtly articulated and given form by a simple meandering graphic line, describing the painting's subject. Indeed, Tänzerin, painted in 1932, is a work based on an earlier drawing that Klee had made, entitled Tanzende (Woman Dancing), in 1931. Whimsical and Picasso-esque in its use of a double-face and an apparently palette-shaped head, the drawing and the present painting depict a dancer who, in the manner of Alexander Calder's earliest wire portrait sculptures, is delineated almost entirely by a single flowing graphic line. It was Klee who famously said that drawing was just 'taking a line for a walk' and in this work he demonstrates this principle in the simplest way, contrasting the graphic simplicity of his earlier drawing with the rich colourful ground created by the 'Divisionist' technique.
Indeed, the painting seems to express less Klee's 'taking a line for a walk' than taking it for a dance, for there is something of the pleasure of articulating movement evident in the lyrical expression of Klee's line. For Klee, as his early champion, the art critic and Expressionist poet Theodor Daübler had shown, dancers, like jugglers or acrobats, were almost semi-miraculous beings whose art of movement often symbolized the mystic link between man and the cosmos - the mystic union of the heavens above and the earth below that Klee's landscapes, for example, also so often sought to express.
One of the leading examples of Klee's Divisionist paintings, along with such works as Ad Parnassum, Polyphony and Insel, all also of 1932, Tänzerin is a work in which Klee has attempted to articulate an entire world through the simplest and sparsest of graphic means. A simple dialogue between graphic line and shimmering abstract colour, it is an attempt to reveal what he once famously described as the underlying 'reality of visible things, and thereby express the belief that visible reality [too] is merely an isolated phenomenon ultimately outnumbered by other realities' (Paul Klee, 'Creative Confession', 1920, quoted in W. Grohmann, Paul Klee, London, 1954, p. 181).
Taking in a theme that had captivated modern artists from Seurat to Severini, Degas to Kirchner, Klee's image of the lone dancer is here expressive not merely of its subject matter but of the whole experience of dance as an art of movement. A marriage between the artist's lyrical dancing line and his warm emotive use of joyous colour, the painting conveys a profound sense of the musical feeling of dancing. With its single line delineating not just the stage and spotlight surrounding the central dancing figure, but also being expressive of her movement across the stage, her form becomes a lyrical pictorial presence gracefully emerging amidst the warm light of the painting's abstract background.
'We may say that fantasy, inspired by instinctual stimuli, creates illusory states which somehow encourage or stimulate us more than the familiar natural or known supernatural states,' Klee had written, 'that its symbols bring comfort to the mind, by making it realize that it is not confined to earthly potentialities... But, in the long run, even enhanced reality proves inadequate. Art plays an unknowing game with ultimate things, and yet achieves them! Cheer up! Value such country outings, which let you have a new point of view for once as well as a change of air, and transport you to a world which, by diverting you, strengthens you for the inevitable return to the greyness of the working day. More than that, they help you to slough off your earthly skin, to fancy for a moment that you are God; to look forward to new holidays, when the soul goes to a banquet in order to nourish its starved nerves, and to fill its languishing blood vessels with new sap. Let yourself be carried on the invigorating sea, on a broad river or an enchanting brook, such as that of the richly diversified, aphoristic graphic art' (Paul Klee, Creative Confession, 1920).