The Hand Puppets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

klee puppet

My kids used to beg their dad to help out with their impromp­tu pup­pet shows. He com­plied by hav­ing our daugh­ter’s favorite baby doll deliv­er an inter­minable cur­tain speech, hec­tor­ing the audi­ence (me) to become sub­scribers and make dona­tions via the small enve­lope they’d find tucked in their pro­grams.

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Like my hus­band, artist Paul Klee (1879–1940) loomed large in his child’s ear­ly pup­pet work. To mark his son Felix’s ninth birth­day, Klee fash­ioned eight hand pup­pets based on stock char­ac­ters from Kasperl and Gretl — Ger­many’s answer to Punch and Judy. The boy took to them so enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly that his dad kept going, cre­at­ing some­thing in the neigh­bor­hood of fifty pup­pets between 1916 and 1925. The cast soon expand­ed to include car­toon­ish polit­i­cal fig­ures, a self-por­trait, and less rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ters with a decid­ed­ly Dada-ist bent. Klee also fixed Felix up with a flea mar­ket frame that served as the prosce­ni­um for the shows he put on in a door­way of the fam­i­ly’s tiny apart­ment.


When Felix set out into the world at the age of eigh­teen, he packed his favorite child­hood pup­pets, while his dad hung onto the ones born of his years on the fac­ul­ty of the Bauhaus. Felix’s por­tion of the col­lec­tion was almost entire­ly destroyed dur­ing the bomb­ing of Wurzburg in World War II. Dr. Death was the only mem­ber of the orig­i­nal eight to escape unscathed.

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You can find a gallery of Klee’s pup­pets here, and a book ded­i­cat­ed to Klee’s pup­petry here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tchaikovsky Pup­pet in Time­lapse Film

Pup­pet Mak­ing with Jim Hen­son: A Price­less Primer from 1969

Bauhaus, Mod­ernism & Oth­er Design Move­ments Explained by New Ani­mat­ed Video Series

Free: The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art and the Guggen­heim Offer 474 Free Art Books Online

 Ayun Hal­l­i­day is okay with pup­pets as long as she can hold them at arm’s length. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (2)
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  • sandra stone says:

    I’m an award-win­ning poet who has focused on ekphras­tic voic­es of eclec­tic greats. I’ve a poem about the pup­pets and won­der whether copy­right laws would pre­vent me from using any one of sev­er­al groups of pup­pets for back or front cov­er of prospec­tive book. Do I write a muse­um direct­ly? Are fees ever waived? The image may not be large, but it must be full col­or.

    A time-sen­si­tive reply would be great­ly appre­ci­at­ed.
    I have a new web­site under con­struc­tion if you wish fur­ther infor­ma­tion.


    In regard,

    San­dra Stone, author of Cock­tails with Breughel at the Muse­um Cafe. Win­ner of two awards.

    The Inmost House: Mem­o­ry, Mak­ing, Jour­ney­ing, Dwelling.
    One of five final­ists for the OR Lit­er­ary Arts Book Award.
    Also: 2010 win­ner of PSA Lucille Med­wick award for a sin­gle poem on a human­i­tar­i­an theme.

  • greg geisler says:

    The link to the Flickr gallery of Klee’s pup­pets is not work­ing. 404 error.

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