Illustrations For Six Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm David Hockney
Find out more about David Hockney’s Brothers Grimm series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
Along with A Rake’s Progress and Illustrations For Fourteen Poems By C.P. Cavafy, David Hockney’s Illustrations For Six Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm are among the artist’s best known etchings. Conceived over three years and published in 1969 they showcase the artist’s ingenuity for composition, his charm as a draughtsman and his mastery of the medium of print.
As with the aforementioned series, the Brothers Grimm prints are characterised by their mostly blank backgrounds, which in 1969 presented a break from his painting style where an almost photographic naturalism was beginning to take hold. The fairytale subjects allowed him to work with a more playful style, and experiment with soft ground technique which meant he could make marks as if he were merely drawing on paper. He also made use of aquatint for shading which allowed him to bring darker and lighter tones into works such as The Lake and The Boy Hidden in an Egg.
The series is also characterised by extensive cross hatching which allowed him to achieve a deeper black, and is a technique Hockney is said to have picked up not just from Hogarth but also Giorgio Morandi’s prints. These various techniques are another way in which Hockney ‘quotes’ the masters that came before him. Whether it’s Matisse in a still life or Picasso in a portrait, his works of art are always looking back as well as out at the viewer, their artifice brought to the fore by conscious referencing and overt display of technique.
The prints were made for a book published by Oxford University Press which began as a print run of 2,000 and eventually sold more than 150,000 copies. This allowed him to experiment not just with the images but also the layout, typography and typesetting. As with his adaptation of Hogarth's morality tale, Hockney took to the subject of fairy tales straight away. He undertook extensive research before beginning work and even travelled along the Rhein to get a feel for the German landscape. Commenting on his love for the fairy tales he said, “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.”
The prints seem to encapsulate all of Hockney’s strengths: his talent for creating beguiling landscapes and interiors, his innate ability to convey an expression in just a handful of lines, his eye for perspective and composition and his immense knowledge of art history which allows him to drop in references to old masters such as Leonardo da Vinci in what is otherwise a very modern set of prints. As with A Rake’s Progress, here Hockney shows faithfulness to the stories themselves and the historic illustrations that accompanied them when they began to be written down. Figures of witches and princesses seem familiar to us through their medieval style of dress while elsewhere he channels our original associations through uncanny illustrations that subvert tradition.
Why is the Brothers Grimm series so important?
Produced in an edition of 400 these are some of Hockney’s more accessible prints, offering an attractive entrypoint for new collectors. While more widespread than other series, they encapsulate Hockney's genius and, with their familiar subject and artful compositions, will remain timeless classics for many decades to come.
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