Klee was serving as a clerk in the paymaster's office at a flying school in Gersthofen when the armistice ending the First World War was signed in November 1918. He was discharged from military duty the following month. He returned to Munich around Christmas-time, and took up his prewar position as Corresponding Secretary of the New Munich Secession. He rented a studio in the Schloss Suresnes in Munich in the spring of 1919. Germany was increasingly embroiled in civil strife as leftist revolutionary movements fought with conservative factions within the government. A socialist Republic of Councils, the Räterepublik, had recently taken over the Bavarian regional government in Munich. Klee was at first wary of these insurgent political elements, but was won over when it became apparent that the new leftist government was supportive of modernism in the arts, and welcomed the participation of progressive artists in promoting their socialist agenda. Klee accepted an invitation to join the Action Committee of Revolutionary Artists headed by Hans Richter on 19 April 1919. Only a few weeks later, however, the troops of the reactionary Freikorps bloodily suppressed the workers' revolution, and in June Klee was forced to flee the city temporarily for fear of prosecution by the new military government.
During these tumultuous days in May and June, Klee drew his best-known self-portrait, which he titled Versunkenheit, 'Self-Absorption' (Paul Klee Foundation, ed., no. 2138; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena). This image is also seen in a colour lithograph based on the drawing (Paul Klee Foundation, ed., no. 2176). In this probing look at himself, Klee mocked whatever inclination he may have entertained to stand aloof from the dire political events that had befallen his city, and threatened himself and his comrades. This important drawing became a formal paradigm for many subsequent portraits. The artist viewed himself frontally and without modeling, employing an incisive linearity to caricaturize his features in a revealing but playful manner, as if he had studied himself with the guileless perception of a child. Many of these qualities, and indeed some of the facial features of Versunkenheit, may be seen in the present bust-length portrait of a young girl, which was done later in the same year. The girl's eyes also possess elongated lids, although they are open and not shut as in the case of the self-portrait. Her nose is stylized in a manner similar to that in Versunkenheit, although here it is turned slightly to one side.
The girl's red color, emphasized in the work's title, may betoken Klee's sympathies for the ill-fated Räterepublik. She may represent a youthful but defiant embodiment of the idealistic political and social goals of the revolutionary movement. There is a closely related drawing, Mädchen mit Topfhut, drawn in the same year but bearing a later numbering (Paul Klee Foundation, ed., no. 2300), in which the girl's breasts are visible. In these works the 'red girl' appears tough, street-wise and able to look after herself in the face of any adversity. In these respects, she is perhaps the female antithesis of the self-absorbed and effete character that Klee projected in his self-portrait.
Klee's foray into revolutionary politics coincided with innovative technical experimentation in his work. The artist executed the linear elements in the present work using the oil-transfer technique that he developed earlier in 1919. This process involved pressing a sheet of paper coated with partially dried black oil colour against the sheet the artist was working on, and then drawing on it from behind. A grainy and ruggedly expressive image was transferred to the new sheet, which Klee then worked over with watercolour.
As noted in the provenance, the Munich dealer Hans Goltz acquired this work from Klee in December 1920. Klee had signed an exclusive three-year contract with Goltz in October 1919, which was later extended to 1925. In the first year of this arrangement the artist achieved his highest number of picture sales to date. Goltz gave Klee a large solo exhibition at his Galerie Neue Kunst in May-June 1920, which included 371 works. The present work was shown in the second one-man show in July-August of that year, at the Kunstverein Jena, and it was published in the following year. These important exhibitions, as well as numerous group shows in which Klee participated throughout Germany, contributed to the first widespread public recognition of the artist's work.