© David Hockney


David Hockney (1937 – )


260 x 343 MM
Accession number


In the late 1960s Hockney began preparations for the double portrait of Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (Tate Collection www.tate.org.uk), but these were put on hold for most of 1969 as he was taken up with one of his most ambitious printmaking projects: Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. Working on illustrations of the world-famous tales collected by the German scholars and folklorists, Jakob Ludwig Karl (1778-1865) and Wilhelm Karl (1787-1859) Grimm, enabled Hockney to give full rein to his imagination. He had read all of the stories, some three hundred and fifty in total, and was attracted by the simple direct style of the writing. He had already made etchings based on the Rumpelstiltzhen story in 1961 and again in 1962, and the for the new series he planned to illustrate twelve of the tales, but finally settled on just six titles: The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy who left Home to learn Fear, Old Rink Rank, and Rumpelstiltzhen. In all he made over 80 etchings from which 39 were published by Petersburg Press in both book and loose-leaf portfolio editions in 1970.

As with the Cavafy etchings, he largely worked directly on to the copper plates so the drawing had a more spontaneous feel. He only occasionally made preliminary drawings in order to try out ideas, and for technical reasons, for the figures in both The boy hidden in an egg and The boy hidden in a fish, two illustrations for the tale of The Little Sea Hare.

The etchings were more complex than his earlier prints and most notable was his use of the traditional engraving technique of cross-hatching which, in addition to aquatint, he used for both areas of tone and in creating dense blacks. Though it was the first time he had employed the technique for his own prints, he had been aware of it from having studied the Hogarth etchings for his Rake’s Progressalmost ten years earlier.

Hockney had used this story before and therefore approached this set of prints with more understanding of the tale. As a result the images are much freer interpretations of the narrative and the artist drew what the story suggested to him visually. Hockney also made alterations to the text: when the miller’s daughter is suggesting possible names for the strange little man, she asked was it ‘Ringo, Zappa or Kasmin ... or possibly John or Paul?’. Ringo, John and Paul were members of The Beatles, Frank Zappa a rock musician and Kasmin was Hockney’s dealer at the time.

In this tale a miller boasted to the King that his daughter could spin straw into gold. The King said that if this was so he would marry her. The miller’s daughter was put in small room to spin the straw, but wept that she could not. In the night a strange little man came and said that he would help her spin the straw into gold in exchange she had to give him a treasured possession. She agreed and parted with her a ring. In the morning the king was delighted to see the gleaming gold. He gave the miller’s daughter larger and larger rooms of straw to spin and each night the strange little man came and took a treasured possession in exchange for the gold. Finally the King gave the miller’s daughter a barn of straw to spin and the strange little man agreed to spin it into gold provided the miller’s daughter gave him her first born son. The strange little man kept his part of the bargain and the miller’s daughter married the King. In due course the strange little man came to claim her first born son, distraught the miller’s daughter pleaded with him to allow the baby to stay with her, and he agreed that if she could discover his name she could keep her child. The miller’s daughter thought and thought of names to no avail, until a messenger reported that he had seen a strange man riding around on a cooking spoon boasting that his name would never be known.


Today I dance tomorrow I travel
The Queen’s child will soon be mine
No one will know from where I came
Or that Rumpelstiltzhen is my name



Thus the Queen saved her child, and in rage the strange little man, Rumpelstiltzhen, tore himself in two.