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  • A Room Full of Straw (Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm) by David Hockney

A Room Full of Straw (Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm) by David Hockney

Petersburg Press

Etching and Aquatint


Edition Size: Unsigned print apart from the published edition of 400 books and 100 portfolios

Sheet Size: 17.5 x 12.25 inches


Condition: Good

Details — Click to read

A Room Full of Straw (from Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm)
Etching and aquatint on paper watermarked “DH” and “PP”
Paper 17.5 x 12.25. / 45 x 31 cm
Plate 11 x 9 in. / 28 x 23 cm
Unsigned print apart from the published edition of 400 books and 100 portfolios. This is one of eleven images recently found in our archive which we have decided to make available. There is one only of each image.

This print from our publisher’s archives is one of thirty-nine etchings from David Hockney’s 1969 “Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm”. Hockney worked on this series with Paul Cornwall-Jones at Petersburg Press over the course of a year. 400 books and 100 portfolios plus artist’s proofs were printed. The artist illustrated six stories: ‘The Little Sea Hare’, ‘Fundevogel’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘The Boy who left Home to learn Fear’, ‘Old Rinkrank’ and ‘Rumpelstilzchen’. According to Hockney, “They’re fascinating, the little stories, told in a very, very simple, direct, straightforward language and style, it was this simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience, from the magical to the moral.” He was inspired by earlier illustrators of the tales, including Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, but Hockney reimagined the stories for a modern audience.

The frontispiece for the project pictures Catherina Dorothea Viehmann, the elderly German woman who recounted fairy tales to the Grimm brothers when they were in their late twenties. In Hockney’s words: “The stories weren’t written by the Brothers Grimm…they came across this woman called Catherina Dorothea Viehmann, who told 20 stories to them in this simple language, and they were so moved by them that they wrote them down word for word as she spoke” Hockney drew the German woman in the style of Dürer, formally posed yet naturalistic against an impeccably crosshatched swath of grey.

Hockney wrote about the surreal plots contained in the Brothers Grimm tales: “…the stories really are quite mad, when you think of it, and quite strange. In modern times, it’s like the story of a couple moving into a house, and in the next door’s garden they see this lettuce growing: and the wife develops this craving for the lettuce that she just must have and climbs over to pinch it, and the old woman who lives in the house next door says well, you can have the lettuce if you give me your child, and they agree to it. And if you put it into terms like this and imagine them in their semi-detached house agreeing to it all, it seems incredible” Hockney enhanced this unbelievable quality with his illustrations which traverse inky, dense areas of intense crosshatching and minimalist line work.

Rather than serving as direct interpretations of the plot, the images capture moments and feelings. Some portray the magic yet mundane — Rapunzel’s tiny face gazing placidly at a well-tended garden, or project danger and unease as in The Haunted Castle, with its citadel perched atop craggy rocks, dramatically lit against a dark sky. Hockney’s sense of humor comes through in Cold Water About to Hit the Prince, in which a man tucked into bed stares straight at a rush of water drawn with a splash (this technique is likely Spit Bite, and the resultant bold spattered brushstroke contrasts beautifully with the rest of the carefully crosshatched image). A Wooded Landscape, with its lush textures, conveys the bucolic setting of a fairy tale and the potential danger hidden within the woods — the viewer is left to wonder who lives on the hilltop in that diminutive cabin.

These etchings defy the conventions of beautiful fairy tale illustrations rich in color and charm that spell out good and evil for young readers. Hockney’s unassuming pictures are instead black and white, filled with negative space and curious architecture that invites the viewer’s imagination to wander. He presents these stories not as moral fables but as weird, magical, unsettling tales exploring the fears, fantasies, and moral ambiguities of adult life.


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The Artist

David Hockney

Born in Bradford England on the 9th July 1937 David Hockney was interested in art from a very early age, and was an admirer of Fragonard, Picasso and Matisse. The fifth of six children his parents encouraged his artistic experimentation. He went to the Bradford College of Art 1953-57. To fulfil his national service, he worked in hospitals as he was a conscientious objector to war. Then in 1959 he was accepted into the Royal College of Art, Graduate school in London.

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