Journal article Open Access
The essay proposes a new reading for Distel-bild [Thistle-painting, 1924], one of Paul Klee’s Sonderklasse (special class) of works that has long eluded interpretation. Painted at the beginning of Klee’s third year of teaching at the Bauhaus during a time of significant change, Distel-bild is no ordinary landscape or garden setting as the thistle, that is not a thistle, is a double-coded object. Adopting an allegorical mode, Klee casts the divisive debates of the early Bauhaus years in the language of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. The essay argues that the painting both gently mocks and celebrates Johannes Itten’s role as a Bauhaus master and imagines how such ideas would spread. This new interpretation that aims to unlock the mystery of the painting’s organic and geometric forms, is informed by the broader reassessment of Klee as an intelectual engaged with contemporary ideas and avant-garde movements, rather than as a remote, naïve romantic.