The Goldfish is one of a number of paintings produced by Klee in 1925 and which feature fish as a subject. In the others, Fish Magic for example, fish are depicted swimming towards and interacting with each other.
Paul Klee was a highly accomplished colourist and his use of rich deep tones of blue, gold and red in this painting clearly shows his abilities.
By stark contrast, in The Goldfish, the viewer is transported into a dark under-water world in which one fish predominates. This enormous golden fish swims serenely along, occupying the majority of the picture, whilst the other, smaller fishes seem to be rushing to get away and out of its path.
The bright gold colour, the scratchy red fins and the large circular pink eye all contribute to the brilliance and prominence of this imposing creature. By contrast, the background is dark and quiet.
The simple graphic quality of the blue weeds that surround the fish is typical of Klee's work at the time. They bring a still, cold quality to the water. He often used letters, symbols and numerals in his paintings and his representation of the waves, the fish scales and the fins in The Goldfish is a good example of this.
Goldfish were famously used by Gustav Klimt as a means to add bright goldleaf paint to some of his elaborate creations. Picasso also produced Night Fishing at the Antibes which offers a similar brightness and vividity of colour.
The light blue wave patterns in the dark water are like ancient runes. They add depth and mystery, helping the goldfish to shine out brightly against the darkness.
Klee was intrigued by colour and line and many of his paintings are lively and vibrant. Reviewers have described this great fish as king-like, and the painting certainly has a sense of stillness, presence and majesty.
The original painting, on paper, in oil and watercolour, is in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg.