Archive for Rumpelstilzchen

David Hockney & the Chief Muse of the Brothers Grimm

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by Liz Hager


David Hockney, Catherina Dorothea Viehmann (frontispiece of Six Fairy Tales), 1969 etching/aquatint.

In 1970 David Hockney and Petersburg Press released Six Fairy Tales, a compilation of 39 etchings and the texts of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tales, including

Although there have been many subsequent translations and adaptations of the Brothers Grimm’s original 1812 volume, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), the texts in Hockney’s edition were re-translated from the (1962?) version released by  Manesse Verlag in Zürich. 

Hockney produced the portfolio in four separate editions of 100 with 15 artist’s proofs; the artist drew the images directly on copper plates, which were pulled at Petersburg Press.  The folios were hand sewn and bound into a blue leather slipcase. Additionally, each edition contained a discrete set of six etchings culled from the 39 illustratons, which were slipped loose into a pocket in the book’s slipcase. The artist also produced a separate portfolio (one edition of 100), in which each tale and its accompanying renderings where folded concertina-style and individually signed and numbered by the artist.

Sometime later, perhaps in the mid-70s, a trade edition of the book was released, both in full and miniature size. Although mass-produced,  the latter version possesses a precious, magical quality that is in in keeping with the spirit of the Medieval Volk-inspired tales. It’s a unique addition to any collection of illustrated children’s books.


(Left) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in an Egg, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint. (Right) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in a Fish, 1969.

What inspired Hockney about The Brothers’ Grimm?  As Karen Armstrong points out in A Short History of Myth, a central purpose of myth is to show us “how to behave.” The Grimm tales are no exception. Chock-full of romance and rescue, familial conflict and truly gruesome violence, the tales are meant as manuals of manners, guides “out of the woods.”



(Left) David Hockney, The Cook, 1969, etching/aquatint.. (Right) David Hokcney, The Pot Boiling, 1969, etching/aquatint.

Peter Webb, author of Portrait of David Hockney, illuminates Hockney’s motivation:

David Hockney had always loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and had read all 220 of them. He also admired earlier illustrations to them by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. In 1969 he decided to make his own images. He especially enjoyed the elements of magic in the tales, and his images focus on his imaginative response to the descriptions in the text rather than attempting to concentrate on the most important events in the narrative. They are therefore more than simply illustrations: they stand on their own as images, independent of the stories.

Unlike other illustrator’s renderings, which impart a beauteous overtone to the stories, through his own quirky rendering of characters and details, Hockney has managed to expertly capture the dark magic mood of the tales. Further, as The Cook and The Pot Boiling from “Fundevogel” brilliantly illustrate, the gruesome details need not always be depicted for us to grasp the sinister undertones of the story.  The artist’s depiction of the Enchantress in “Rapunzel” as an androgynous crone sends shivers up the spine. 



 (Left) David Hockney, The Enchantress in Her Garden, 1969, etching/aquatint. (Right) David Hockney, The Enchantress with Baby Rapunzel, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint.

And what of Catherina Dorothea Viehmann, Hockney’s frontispiece portrait?  Few readers know that in the height of the Romantic Era the Grimms did not travel the German countryside transcribing stories from simple peasants, but relied on a small network of bourgeois female friends and acquaintances to retell the stories they had heard in various homes. As scholars, the Grimms put their own name on the books they edited, keeping the identity of their storytellers largely secret. In this way, on the eve of German patriotic rebirth after years of occupation by Napoleon’s government, the Grimms were able to maintain the conceit of a vast repository of German Volkskultur.

In the best oral tradition, women recited folk tales to each other to ward off the boredom of household chores and to instruct younger women on the proper way for women to behave. Over half of the 210 stories in the first edition were contributed by women. Family friend Marie Hassenpflug was responsible for “Sleeping Beauty” and “Red Riding Hood;” neighbor Dorchen Wild for “Rumpelstilzchen,” “The Six Swans” and “Frau Holle” (incidentally one of the Grimms’ most popular stories in Germany today). 

Ludwig Emil Grimm, Dorothea Viehmann, charcoal on paper, ca. 1814.

In the spring of 1813 the Brothers met Dorothea Viehmann, an impoverished widow, who by then would have been in her late 50s. The daughter of an innkeeper, Dorothea may have picked up stories as a girl from her mother and even the guests and tradespeople of her father’s inn. Viehmann possessed a photographic memory when it came to recounting the details of her stories; apparently she could stop mid-sentence and retrace a previous section word for word as she had already told it.  Wilhelm confessed: “She comes to visit at least once a week and unleashes (her stories). We take turns transcribing. . . and by now have (made) such lovely progress that we could probably deliver a second volume.” (letter from Wilhelm to his brother Ferdinand—translated by Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids, pp. 151-152).

In all Dorothea Viehmann contributed over 40 stories, to the Grimms’ second volume,  including “Cinderella,” “The Goose Maid” and “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs.” Ironically, Viehmann’s heritage was French Huguenot, so the likely origin of her stories was not Germany at all. 

The Grimm family included two other brothers. Ludwig Emil became an artist, who among other endeavors illustrated his brothers’ fairy tale books. In the 1819 edition of Children’s and Household Fairy Tales, his portrait of Dorothea Viehmann appeared as the frontispiece, although one wonders with what attribution. When David Hockney re-instated Viehmann to her position as Chief Muse for the Brothers Grimm, he revealed a part of the Grimms’ own secret history. 

Wider Connections

David Hockney

Culturistas on David Hockney

The Annotated Brothers Grimm—Essays by A.S. Byatt; 150 illustrations by artists including George Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham.

Bruno Bettelheim—The Uses of Enchantment

Valerie Paridiz—Clever Maids: The Secret History of The Grimm Fairy Tales 

Brothers Grimm background

Manesse Codex (translated and transcribed by Jacob Grimm)

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