Klee joined the Bauhaus in Weimar in January 1921 at the invitation of the architect Walter Gropius, beginning what Will Grohmann has called "possibly the happiest period of his life" (Paul Klee, London, 1957, p. 63). He taught and worked in close proximity with a stellar faculty of artists, architects and designers from Central and Eastern Europe, including Gropius, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy. His studio facilities were larger and better equipped than any he had known previously and, for drawings and watercolors, he now had access to a great variety of papers whose textures encouraged him to experiment with novel and innovative techniques. While the constructivist disciplines and abstractionist tastes that prevailed at the Bauhaus had significant impact on many of his works during this period, these tendencies did nothing to inhibit the essential nature of his art.
The infectious playfulness of Klee's work is an out and out romantic trait. His talent for discovering new means of expression was not merely an end in itself. His constant play with new forms and his startling technical experiments were a deliberate way of avoiding rigidity and overly flat statements and of creating ambiguity. In short, like all romantics, what he sought even in his forms was a ceaseless, playful activity and expansion of the mind and not the realization of an ideal in the classical sense of physical perfection.
(J. Glaesemer, "Klee and German Romanticism," Paul Klee, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 69)
The present drawing, in its combination of drawn line and brushed color, expresses the dual nature of Klee's pictorially conceived universe. "Color for him tends to represent the 'abstract', otherworldly side of his vision, whereas the drawing is the means of coming to terms with the anecdotal, all-too-human lower levels of this world" (ibid., pp. 74-75). The toned ground, created by applying the loaded brush to wetted paper and allowing the pigment to bleed outwards, creates an indefinite cosmic backdrop, against which the figures of the horse and man, reduced to similar ribbon-like forms, advance in step, removed from any familiar sense of time and place. The introduction of the arrow at upper left, is one of Klee's most cogent symbols. The artist wrote in his 1924 Pedagogical Sketchbook:
The father of the arrow is the thought: how can I extend my range in that direction? The contrast between man's ideal ability to penetrate at will the natural and the supernatural and his physical impotence is the origin of human tragedy. Thought as the medium between the earth and the cosmos. The longer the journey, the more poignant the tragedy. One must become movement and not merely be!
(quoted in W. Grohmann, op. cit., p. 184)
Klee implies in Pferd und Mann an evolutionary movement that carries man and nature along together, not in the hierarchical sense as conventionally conceived, but as co-equals. Although we may surmise the man is likely the horses's owner, he does not sit astride it as master. Klee's inclination to upend the familiar notion of animal domestication is typical of his playfulness, which views the accepted order of things as fair game for re-interpretation and aims at the humorous reversal of our expectations.
The artist's numbering of the present drawing, as listed in his own oeuvrekatalog places it immediately after a series of beach scenes and townscapes inspired by his holiday on Baltrum Island on the North Sea during the fall of 1923. He may have encountered a horse and man on the strand during his trip, and seen against the elemental surroundings of the North Sea landscape, it perhaps resonated strongly in his mind, moving him to draw a universalized idea from a purely anecdotal event.