In the period following the end of World War I in 1918, the work of Paul Klee quickly matured, and his range of subject matter expanded and deepened philosophically. The atmosphere of artistic and political revolution in Munich, Klee's pre-war travels in North Africa, and his assimilation of Delaunay's Orphist influence were all coming to fruition, particularly in his handling of color and the transformation of his drawing and form. It was during this year that Klee created mit dem Netzfischer, one of the artist's rare doubled-sided works.
The glowing, jewel-like resonance of mit dem Netzfischer emerges in the combination of delicately modulated color and imaginative draughtsmanship. The fisherman gazes upon the viewer from the lower left corner, as his catch swims in the opposite, upper right corner. A lattice-like town sprouts upwards like a graceful plant. Perspective is key, for one is never completely sure whether the architecture wraps around a bay of water or rises into the heavens. Does the enormous, central eye gaze upwards through the watery depths, or gaze down upon us from above? The composition bridges Klee's concerns with abstraction and figuration and invites the viewer into his world of fantasy, one which is "inhabited" by fanciful symbols. These symbols--the wheel, star, eye, cross, flag and fish, to name a few--often were present in Klee's work of this period but rarely appear all together in such a glorious dialogue.
The sublime symbolism of Klee's watercolor-tinted calligraphic pictures of 1916-1918 derive, according to Will Grohmann, from the artist's experience of Chinese poems. Klee's initial experiments with the meaning inherent in the structure and arrangement of letters and words (as culminated in his seminal 1918 watercolor Einst dem Grau der Nacht enttaucht . . . [Paul Klee Stiftung; Grohmann, no. 106]) led to a metamorphosis in his draughtsmanship, as seen here in the delicate, intricate rhythms of the structural forms. This hieroglyphic language of "writing-architecture" ultimately developed into that complex hierarchy of symbolism which included not only numbers but exclamation marks and pendulums. The combinations were intended to produce allusions and associations in the viewer that are relatable by rational pictorial means.
On the verso of the sheet is a pencil drawing of a more intimate subject, that of a mother protectively shrouding her child. While the human element borders on being inconsequential to the larger cosmic theme on the recto, the figures on the verso are at the center of Klee's attention and his primary subject.