Tale à la Hoffmann

Artist: Paul Klee (German (born Switzerland), Münchenbuchsee 1879–1940 Muralto-Locarno)

Date: 1921

Medium: Watercolor, graphite, and transferred printing ink on paper bordered with metallic foil, mounted on cardboard

Dimensions: 15 7/8 × 12 5/8 in. (40.3 × 32.1 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984

Accession Number: 1984.315.26


Klee loved the tales of the German poet and writer E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), who was nicknamed "Ghost Hoffmann" in his own country. Tale à la Hoffmann appears to be loosely based on the poet's best-known lyrical tale, The Golden Pot (1814), a magical story that switches back and forth between high fantasy and everyday life in Dresden. It recounts the trials of the pure and foolish young Anselmus and his efforts to gain entry to Atlantis, the heaven of poetry. The tree from which Anselmus first heard fateful voices speaking to him might thus be on the left. The odd, tubelike construction on the right perhaps represents the glass bottle in which Anselmus found himself briefly imprisoned. The tale's repeated references to time are reflected in the two clocks, and the vessel in the center may stand for the golden pot with the fantastic lily that gives the story its name.