Music to my Eyes – Paul Klee

Mood – Colour, Contrast and Harmony


I have recently been looking at the work of the painter Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) particularly at his investigations into colour and specifically theories which link colour with feelings and mood. Klee was especially interested in examining how our emotions can be affected by visual stimuli.  It is comparable or analogous to how we feel and are influenced  when we listen to different types of music.

In the same manner by  which music  bypasses our conscious thought processes – so too does input to our visual field – what we see and view is wordless and therefore not bound up with language.


Paul Klee (1879 – 1940)  ‘Painting Music’


In 1914 Klee travelled to Tunis, and influenced by the light and place – his work at this time became remarkably colourful and vibrant. During this visit, he produced some glorious watercolours. On the front cover of the book above is a painting from his Tunisia period  it is called ‘Motif from Hammamet’ and was painted in 1914.

You can observe clearly how he used informal geometrical shapes – based on squares, rectangles and triangles, to represent, in abstract form the buildings and houses commonly found in North Africa.  Overlaying colours, he created subtle variations and then with smaller brushstrokes arrays and textural patterns.  The colours he uses within the paintings are combinations of  bright primary colours contrasted with deeper browns and dark greys tones.  I think the output of this time is amongst his best work.

As a child, Paul Klee, was an accomplished violinist, but in his teens decided to pursue art instead of following in the footsteps of his musical parents. He also worked as a teacher and artist for the celebrated Bauhaus school, but the continuity of his work was interrupted and disrupted by the second world war.  His style of work was very varied and experimental and not easily categorised.

Below is a short introductory video showing the range of Paul Klee’s work with an explanation of how his use of colour and form created particular moods.  The video  uses examples from paintings which were displayed at an exhibition called ‘The EY Exhibition – Paul Klee – Making Visible’ and held at Tate Modern in 2014.  It is perceptively presented by art historian Rosie Rockel.



Visual imagery whether it is based on realism or abstract forms invariably attracts our attention and is surprisingly compelling.  An added and useful aspect is also that it  has a universal appeal – particularly when contrasted with language – visual imagery is much more capable of crossing  – countries, continents and cultures.

Pictures, patterns, drawings and diagrams,  are not as tied up with our thought processes as  ‘thinking’ which is usually articulated in and expressed through words.  The varied forms of visual imagery appeal more to our feelings and intuition than does rational thinking.

Thoughts and deliberations, especially those which, reach beyond daydreams or the imaginary, can lead onto logical and analytical thinking  – processes which visual imagery tends to bypass. But both the visual field and the hearing / musical field, transmit and connect directly into our subconscious, they  thereby  access the essence and the heart of our very being.  Via this powerful path they  have  a profound impact on our inner emotional life.


Watercolour Subtle Overlays


Experimenting with some of the techniques that Paul Klee used, particularly on his trip to Tunis, I have created, above, blocks of colour that sometimes contrast – when using colours that appear as opposites on the colour wheel – such as green and red; or alternatively, harmonise – those colours that sit next to each other – such as orange and red on a colour wheel.  The overall effect is kaleidoscopic and  for me, it has been a useful  practise and reference piece.

I  used  the paints as unmixed ‘pure’ colours, straight from the palette and allowed them to dry  before overlaying them again to create new hues or shades.  Sometimes colours have been left as a single layer and other times they are overlaid with another colour or even the same colour once again.  This process of layering colours known as ‘glazing’ is a technique which can be used to create a multitude of new colours.

These new colours are far more subtle than any manufacturer of  pre-mixed colour could ever achieve.  Artists who take the trouble to make or mix their own ‘one-off’ colours  will reap the the benefit of having created their own distinctive palette.  The use of an individual colour range incorporates into an artist’s work a signature and a uniqueness that is entirely their own and which will  make their work instantly recognisable.

Returning to – and continuing with Paul Klee’s music analogy, it could be said that in musical terms the vibrant colours provide the high notes; the more subtle tones could be seen as mid-notes or neutrals – and lastly – the darker shades the lower and deeper notes.


Watercolours with Vibrancy

In another exercise piece above I have increased digitally the vibrancy and intensity  of the watercolours.  The brightest colours seem to give out a  feeling of intense joy, whilst  a mood of deep gloom is sensed in the dark and blackish areas.

The combination of ‘contrasts’ or ‘harmonising’ could be compared in melodic terms with the varied movements within a musical score, each of which has its own mood and atmosphere. Colour areas can be equated with our feelings –  happy to ecstatic; or sad and melancholy; quick, slow and so on.  The main idea is that all of our moods and emotions can be translated into ‘visual-musical’ compositions which then  affect and move us.

Klee not only compared his work to music but even referred to his watercolour paintbox as his ‘keyboard of colours’.  It is as if when painting a picture he is actually playing or creating a musical piece. He wrote “I have …. always tried to arouse certain sounds in me; an adventure with colour, great or small.” (1926)

Whilst exploring the effects of different colours, within his paintings he also  played with another essential musical element, that of, rhythm. He converted rhythm or beats from a sound to a visual motif – this was achieved  by introducing into his work repeating forms.


Monument in Fertile Country (1929) a watercolour by Paul Klee


This repetitive theme can be seen in some of his work inspired by landscapes.  In the painting above he reconfigures an aerial view  into simplified abstract geometric forms by  emphasising the linear lines.  He also plays with the horizontal dimension by dividing it into sub-sections and then into further ‘dividual‘ structures all of which help to create a sense of rhythm.

Within the painting Klee uses separated parallel lines and these interplay with vertical and slanted sides. Using a pattern of musical notation he divides the ‘fields’ into “halves, four quarters, eight eighths, sixteen sixteenths or alternative quavers”. (Duchting)

This watercolour was produced in 1929 and is titled  ‘Monument in Fertile Country’. In the year before  Paul Klee undertook a trip to Egypt so it is quite likely that the inspiration for this painting was the landscape of the River Nile.  The yellow broken and truncated sloping shapes may represent the remains of monumental pyramids which are then surrounded by brown and green strip fields and plots.

Another interesting musically inspired work  called ‘Polyphony’ created in 1932, is shown below, and was produced in oil and chalk.  In this painting Klee explores an entirely different effect which is striking and contrasting in its arrangement.  Its musical title ‘polyphony’ means two or more sounds appearing together at the same time. This idea is adapted into a visual form by superimposing small dots over an underlayer- in this way two or more colours always appear together at the same time.

This painting also seems to borrow  from the ‘Impressionist’s’ pointillism style –  but reinvents the technique by using  tiny pixel type shapes to form mosaic patterns over flat washes of colour.  Pointillism originally explored how our eye combines specks of colour together; but Klee utilises the effect differently – for him it is a representation of musical notes – and as with music itself it can create lyrical or discordant passages.

An extract from ‘Polyphony’ (1931) a painting by Paul Klee


I must say that I find these dotty-spotty paintings less pleasing to view than the more serene and sunny  watercolour paintings shown above. The patchy-flickering effect is  not restful or easy on the eye and it becomes exhausting when looked at for any length of time.

However, throughout the ages artists have  wrestled with different styles and techniques to support their work and it is the role of each generation to explore and reinterpret those methods which most reflect the concerns and technological advance of their own age.

The linking of visual experience directly to musical forms was quite particular to the personal vision of Paul Klee and using this metaphor enabled him to produce some wondrous work.



Klee by Hans L Jaffe, Hamlyn 1972

Paul Klee Painting Music by Hajo Duchting, Prestel 2016

All the photographs and also the ‘artwork’ experiments in watercolour translucency are by myself.



In 1919 the musician and composer Stravinsky was commissioned to write a ballet score by Diaghilev the renowned dancer.  The ballet was to be based on an  18th century Neapolitan play and an older music score was adapted and updated by Stravinsky.  The ballet premiered in 1920 at the Paris Opera. Below is a video of the introduction – This production by the Scarpina Ballet Company was choreographed by Nils Christe, most likely in 1987. With abseiling and other acrobatic frolics and follies the colourful production is amusing and delightful.



It is notable that Stravinsky (1882 – 1971 )  was born 3 years before Paul Klee; they  were contemporaneous, although probably not connected.  Klee sadly died 30 years before Stravinksy – Stravinsky lived on to a great age and was close to 90 when he died.





February Flora at Cotswold Garden Flowers

Early Spring at a Plant Nursery in Badsey, Worcestershire

In mid to late February as we are reaching the end of the winter season, life in and on the ground begins to stir and rise.  Snowdrops are perhaps the most noticeable signal that the life cycle is beginning anew. But, however wonderful the purity of white snowdrops, it is also a surprise to note the colourful range and variety of plants that are also out in flower at this time of year especially in our gardens; but only if you are interested and inspired enough to seek them out.

A good example and a place to start on this intriguing journey is the delightful nursery called Cotswold Garden Flowers, to be found on the edge of Badsey, a small village set within the lovely Worcestershire landscape.

You will need your best navigational skills or a good SatNav to find it as you meander through the village maze, taking left turns here and right turns there convincing yourself  that you must be lost – but then finally as the road peters out altogether and becomes a stony track you find, with relief, that you have arrived.

Traveller’s Joy – in February –  at Badsey  (A native clematis with characterful downy winter seedheads  found scrambling amongst the hedgerows of Worcestershire)

Bob Brown who set up and runs the nursery,  is an expert plantsman and gives informative and entertaining talks too.  Plants to him are akin to people they have their good points, their weak points and their quirky points – he knows and notices them all.

He has a team of helpers who he has trained up to give advice and sometimes they may alternate with Bob to give an equally wonderful talk.  The photo below was from a talk by Mandie that I attended in February last year.

Special Varieties of Crocus, Euphorbia, Primroses, Iris, Hellebore, and many more !           (the 3rd week of February 2016)

The format of the talks is based on a theme, but the substance is generated from the plants that are collected from around the nursery on the day and so they are always tied to a particular seasonal moment.

Bob is a plantaholic, he seeks out the unusual; but he also likes to rate his plants from a practical perspective.  His website and nursery catalogue give more useful information about the technical aspects of planting and growing –  such as soil preferences or hardiness ratings.

Talking of hardiness if you go in the winter months when it is cold it’s advisable to wrap up warm as the talk takes place in an underheated room – but there is warmth in the welcome and friendliness of the people you meet and also the coffee and homemade cakes which are delicious.

You can just turn up to a talk, but it’s better and more polite to book a place as the seating is limited.


Link to Cotswold Garden Flowers website:

Find out more about the wild clematis vitalba:


Donovan (b-1946) Scottish born singer-songwriter and guitarist, sings his own folk influenced composition ‘The Lullaby of Spring’ from his double album ‘A Gift from a Flower to a Garden’ released in 1967.

Snowdrops at Painswick Rococo Garden

February is snowdrop time here in the UK.

I usually like to go on a snowdrop stroll, preferably a winter woodland walk; at this   turning point in the year- poised as it is between the gloominess of winter and the hopefulness of spring. A particular favourite place of mine to visit is the Painswick Rococo Garden.


The Painswick Rococo garden is renowned for its swathes of snowdrops with wave upon wave of lush green leaves, splashed and stippled  with spotlit creaminess and whiteness.

The greens and whites of the ground cover contrast perfectly  with shaded tall black-brown trunks of towering trees.  Delicate traceries are formed from the countless tiny gauzy twigs, loosely intertwining, weaving a fine and airy canopy overhead. Inescapably, the eye is drawn upwards; entranced and wondering at the pale grey-blueness above.


It’s best if you can to go, on a bright sunny day when the light is  luminous and the sky is a wintry blue. The low sun casts extended shadows which seem to slip and spill carelessly around and about on the grassy ground.

There are about 6 acres of grounds to explore within the Rococo Garden, and a walk could be long or short depending on how much exploring you wish to do.  The main part of the garden is set within a bowl and so much of it can be viewed from high terraces.

Some parts are manicured and other areas have a more wild feel. I particularly like the waterfall shown below, which is in a shady dell with impressive naturalised snowdrops covering the steep bank..  This part of the garden is damp and mossy with ferns too, it has a sombre and melancholy mood in a Victorian sort of way.




When the snowdrops are out they also hold special talks and you can listen to the history of the garden and learn about the different types of snowdrops that are grown. They also have a small nursery selling a few unusual varieties – although not enough to suit the serious galanthophiles.  There is a cafe too for coffees, lunch and teas – so you could spend a whole day there if you are not in a hurry and are so inclined.




To continue the tranquil mood here is  Chopin’s Nocturne: Opus 9, No 2 in E flat – written between 1830 – 1832 and played  by Sergei Rachmaninoff; most likely in the 1920’s.




The images of the garden are all by myself and the Sunlit Snowdrops photograph  can be purchased from Red Bubble.

This is a link to the Painswick Rococo Garden website.