Fairy Tale Etchings by David Hockney

"THE OLDER RAPUNZEL" FROM ILLUSTRATIONS FOR SIX FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM 1969 ETCHING IN BLACK 9 1/2 X 10" © DAVID HOCKNEY PHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD SCHMIDT

David Hockney. “The Older Rapunzel” from “Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” 1969. Etching Edition of 100 Portfolio and 100 Book-C. 17 3/4 x 16 1/4″ © David Hockney

In the spring of 2016, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs Rena Hoisington taught the course “Paper Museums: Exhibiting Artists’ Books” to 11 students in Johns Hopkins University’s Program in Museums and Society. The students’ work resulted in Off the Shelf: Modern & Contemporary Artists’ Books, now open.

The exhibition presents more than 130 artists’ books—artworks conceived of and produced in book form—and prints by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Kiki Smith, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha. Stephen King, Frank O’Hara, and Robert Creeley are among the 30+ authors represented. More than half of the artists’ books and related prints in the exhibition have never before been on view at the BMA.

In addition to determining the exhibition’s checklist and organization, Rena’s students wrote descriptions of the artworks featured for wall labels as well as blog posts that explore individual artworks featured in Off the Shelf. The first in the blog series is by Julia Raphael on David Hockney’s etchings:

In 1970, Petersburg Press published Six Fairy Tales, a collection of stories by the Brothers Grimm with etchings by David Hockney. The six stories that Hockney chose to include are: The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen.  Upon first viewing Six Fairy Tales, I was immediately struck by what a distinctly different and innovative approach Hockney took to illustrating the tales contained in this book. I, and I might venture to say most readers, have become accustomed to encountering publications of fairy tales that are elaborately illustrated in bright colors with fantastic ornamentation. We’ve developed this conception from many of the other illustrated versions that exist of these same stories and even from the popular Disney films based on tales by the Brothers Grimm.

It is well known that Hockney has a great affinity for the Brothers Grimm’s work, having read more than 200 of their folktales. Regarding their tales Hockney said that, “They’re fascinating little stories, told in a very, very simple, direct and straightforward language and style; it was their simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience from the magical to the moral.”[1]  His etchings reflect much of what Hockney himself said he admires most about the stories.

Each story is accompanied by a number of illustrations – as few as four and as many as 11. Interestingly, when illustrating the stories, Hockney did not always choose to illustrate the passages that were the most dramatic or significant for the advancement of the plot. Instead, he chose those parts of the text that most inspired his imagination or presented artistic challenges. For example, Hockney chose to illustrate the glass mountain from Old Rinkrank because it was not immediately clear how one would go about drawing such a mountain and he wanted to explore that graphic dilemma.  He chose to include “The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear” because it is such a strange, imaginative story that presented a breadth of artistic opportunities. [2]

Additionally, Hockney chose to portray a much less idealized version of the stories in which even the princesses are not strikingly beautiful, as is shown above in his etching “The Older Rapunzel.”  This unusual presentation challenges the viewer to think about the tales in a different light and emphasizes some of the darker themes present in the stories.

Hockney’s etchings—simple in composition, yet incredible detailed—offer the reader a different way of engaging with these popular fairy tales, effectively leaving their creative interpretation up to the reader.

[1] Robert Flynn Johnson, “David Hockney and the Brothers Grimm,” David Hockney: Six Fairy Tales, Landau Traveling Exhibitions, 2010.

[2] “David Hockney: Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” Christies, http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/prints-multiples/david-hockney-illustrations-for-six-fairy-tales-5532594-details.aspx.

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