The mask is a recurring theme within Klee’s work, other pieces include Masks (1923), Mask of Fear (1932) and Mask with the little Red Flag (1925).
The Actors Mask is painted with a limited palette of colours but the mask has an astonishing vibrancy which contrasts perfectly with the dark, rough background.
Klee was a member of Der Blaue Reiter group of artists who were heavily influenced by primitivism and spirituality. Additionally, “tribal art” was seen as new and exciting by many collectors at the time.
It has been suggested that these were some of the factors that influenced Klee’s image of the Actor’s Mask. Some writers have commented that actors at the Bauhaus often wore masks and costumes that resembled fencers’ apparel and this may have influenced this particular painting too.
The image itself appears rather simplistic at first glance, There is a suggestion of a face created by the delicate lines which cross the face rather like a web and appear to form a nose, eyes, mouth and eyebrows. The suggestion of hair is formed by lines at either side of the mask.
The right side lies conservatively while the left side appears wild, sticking out at odd angles. The rings formed around the neck area certainly suggest the tribal theme. A pyramid shape appears at the head mirroring the shape of the neck. Barely visible are the shoulders which appear almost like part of a landscape.
The powerful image draws the viewer's eyes towards it, yet the repetitive lines that cross the face also add the sense of a barrier. The viewer may wonder what is going on behind those lines.
It is well known that Klee had a dry sense of humour so he may well have been inviting viewers to “read between the lines”. An alternative argument put forward by some writers has been that is shows the introversion and pain from all that had been seen during the war.
The Actors Mask is captivating, almost mesmerising piece and one more of Paul Klee’s many fascinating images.