“A certain fire, an impulse to create, is kindled, is transmitted through the hand, leaps to the canvas, and in the form of a spark leaps back to its starting place, completing the circle—back to the eye and further (back to the source of the movement, the will, the idea). The beholder’s activity, too, is essentially temporal. The eye is made in such a way that it focuses on each part of the picture in turn; and to a new section, it must leave the one just seen. Occasionally the beholder stops looking and goes away—the artist often does the same thing. If he thinks it worthwhile, he comes back—again, like the artist.” (Paul Klee from Creative Credo, 1920).
By the mid-1920s Klee's methods and techniques had become so numerous and diverse that it seems remarkable that most were purely and uniquely his own, and that his pictorial language and subjects had become so idiomatic and personal that he seemed to owe very little to outside influences. He continued to expand on these processes by being openly receptive to both new and old kinds of art during his travels, and he broadened his ideas on perception and art-making in his classes at the Bauhaus. However, he was neither swept along nor unduly influenced by newer movements that were emerging around him. For these reasons, movements such as Surrealism had less impact on Klee’s work than he had on its proponents, who had long held him in high regard, even if one may relate aspects of his work to artists such as Joan Miró, André Masson, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. In 1929, on the occasion of Klee’s 50th birthday, Will Grohmann published a well-received text on the artist, accompanied by homages from seven Surrealist painters and poets, in Cahiers d'Art. As such, Surrealism in particular provided an environment in which Klee's work was more widely appreciated, but it did little to alter his essential approach to painting.
Bildnis in der Laube (Portrait in the arbor) is a good case in point, insofar as it reflects many ideas that were then current, but nevertheless remains an entirely personal and characteristic statement. In its rich, black surface, punctuated with orbs of colour, one may observe residual traces of the dark and mysterious space of the Surrealist inscape, enhanced by the fantastical sensibility within its unclear yet deeply evocative narrative. Set within a jewel-like grove of trees, Klee’s Picasso-esque protagonist in Breton stripes beckons toward the dramatically receding fantastical space. The vibrant, spontaneous and expressive colour retains the impact of children's and outsider art; its mysterious story simultaneously evoking joyfulness, playfulness, romanticism and a curiosity borne of an excitement in the unknown. As such, the style and content retains the distinctive aura of Klee, the wonderful chromatic contrasts producing an immediacy of response and enhanced by an elusive narrative that grounds the work in intrigue and dream, keeping the viewer entranced.