Cotsen Research Projects: Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children

Note: The Friends of the Princeton University Library offer short-term Library Research Grants to promote scholarly use of the research collections, which are awarded via a competitive application process.  Researchers usually offer a short informal talk or presentation to library staff and others in the Princeton academic community near the end of their work on campus about the results of their research and how it fits into their broader research project or interests.

The text below was kindly provided by Megan Brandow-Faller, recipient of a 2012 Library Research Grant, following her July 2012 research project at Princeton in both the Cotsen Children’s Library and Marquand Art Library, following her July, 13, 2012 talk entitled: “An Artist in Every Child–A Child in Every Artist: Avant-Garde Frauenkunst and Kinderkunst in Vienna, 1897-1930.”  (The images accompanying the text are adapted from select slides in her PowerPoint presentation.)  Dr. Brandow-Faller is currently Assistant Professor of History at the City University of New York/Kingsborough. Her research focuses on women’s art institutions in early twentieth century Habsburg Central Europe.

Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children 

by Megan Brandow-Faller

The art of the child found fertile ground in Vienna 1900, cultivated by Franz Čižek’s renowned Jugendkunstkursen (Youth Art Classes), at important exhibitions of children’s art, and in the pages of Ver Sacrum and other periodicals.  Rejecting the elaborate technological miniatures popular in the nineteenth century–toys intended to ‘dazzle’ but which would ultimately leave a child cold–artists associated with the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte (the applied arts commercial workshops co-founded by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1903) designed objects conceived ‘with the eyes of a child.’ Secessionist toys, illustrated books and graphics using simple shapes and bright colors were designed to awaken children’s creative impulses in a design language that children could understand.

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

In designing these so-called ‘reform toys,’ Secessionists tapped two main sources for inspiration: the untutored drawing of children and traditional turned wooden peasant toys. The January 1906 issue of Alexander Koch’s progressive journal Kind and Kunst, for instance, devoted a richly-illustrated twenty-three page article to Wiener Werkstätte items (including finely-illustrated children’s books, games, silver rattles, and furniture suites) for children, including toy designs by Hoffmann, Moser, and Carl Otto Czeschka.

Kolo Moser’s crudely-shaped wooden figurines (illustrated in Figure 4b) reveal how Secessionists interpreted traditional toys in a highly-stylized manner verging on the grotesque.

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

Yet, it was actually the female students of Hoffmann, Moser, and Czeschka who produced some of the most important work in artistic toys and children’s book illustration. Contemporary critics found toy design and book illustration particularly appropriate fields for female craftswomen, given women’s ‘natural’ stake in childrearing (i.e. that women were believed to better understood children’s thought processes than men). Female craftswomen training at Austria’s progressive School of Applied Arts and Vienna’s Women’s Academy exploited such discursive linkages to the fullest.

 

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

One popular method of graphic art and book illustration for children involved the use of painted stencils to produce clear, simple images. Stenciling had experienced a recent revival during the English and Scottish arts-and-crafts movement. In conjunction with the so-called Schablonieren Kurs (Stenciling Course) taught by Secessionist Adolf Böhm at the Women’s Academy, Böhm’s students published illustrated fairy tale and picture books and gained recognition through replication of such illustrations in the pages of Ver Sacrum, die Fläche and other periodicals. A special September 1902 issue of the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum featured the work of Böhm’s students. (Figures 1a & 1b)  His students’ toy designs were regularly featured in the pages of The Studio.

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

One such book of children’s stencils (housed in the Cotsen Collection) created by Women’s Academy classmates artist/designers Minka Podhajska and Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka around 1903 employs a fresh and original graphic language using negative white space in lieu of the black borders that Čižek encouraged his students to bound their drawings.

Packing a strong expressive punch into a minimal number of marks expressed as abstract geometrical shapes, Harlfinger-Zakucka’s stenciled image of a reform-clothing-clad mother, sporting what looks to be Wiener-Werkstätte style textiles, guiding her toddler plays on negative and positive space to reveal the interconnected forms and hence psychological closeness of mother and child (Figure 2b). Her stencil of a children’s Jause (snacktime) employs similar techniques (Figure 2a). These stenciled images reveal a striking encounter with Japanese printmaking techniques in their unusual manipulation of spatial perspective and boldly ‘cropped’ nature.

 

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

Likewise carving her images out of negative white space, Podhajska’s depiction of a dancing couple (Figure 3a) reveals her fascination with folk art, an important source of influence for the turned-wooden toys she and Harlfinger-Zakucka produced. Her stencil of a witch conjuring her brew employs a wonderfully expressive sinuous curve associated with the new art movement (Figure 3b), which also relates well to the idiosyncratic use of turning-lathe methods in her turned-wooden figurines. The tangible figure of the witch and cauldron is expressed in a curvilinear fashion. Yet it is the intangible aspects of the image–the suggestion of smoke, fire and more abstractly the witches’ incantations–lending it its fiery expressiveness. While both artists tapped into folk imagery and design idioms, their work freely reinvented and modernized traditional folk design into images that were designed to awaken children’s creativity through subtle narrative elements. Images stood alone to leave the rest of the story to children’s imagination.

We Get Mail: Hans Brückl’s Mein Buch in the National Socialist Era

Cover of Mein Buch

Cover of Mein Buch

I received an inquiry from a woman who was hoping to obtain copies of a few missing illustrations in Hans Bruckl’s Mein Buch, which she’d had as a girl in Belgium during World War II. She didn’t know why they had been removed, but suspected that the portrait of Hitler she remembered had something to do with it. “I think,” she wrote, “my parents wanted me to know some German in case, but took out certain illustrations–also in case–depending on who was going to win the war.”

Cotsen has nine different editions of Mein Buch, published by the Munich firm R. Oldenbourg between 1923 and 1964, five of which were printed during the National Socialist period. The records in the Princeton University online catalogue indicated that Mein Buch had been reillustrated several times, but I couldn’t find any information about the nature of the changes in either Gisela Teistler’s Fibel-Findbuch: Deutschsprachige Fibeln von den Anfängen bis 1944 (2003) or Noriko Shindo’s Das Ernst Kutzer-Buch: Bio-Bibliographie (2003). So I headed down to the stacks on a hunch that some of changes to the pictures must have been politically motivated. And indeed they were–some blatant, others were more subtle.

One variation of the illustration image showing children rolling hoops and playing catch

One variation of the illustration image showing children rolling hoops and playing catch

Illustration that faces the playing children in the 1941 edition

Illustration that faces the playing children in the 1941 edition

Nowhere in the first edition of 1923 are children shown engaged in political activity. Some version of an image showing children rolling hoops and playing catch appears in all the editions in Cotsen that I looked at, but it faces different material in each case.

In the 1941 edition illustrated by Ernst Kutzer, for example, the idyllic illustration is opposite an overtly propagandistic picture of a school yard where two boys are raising the national flag while their fellow students and teacher stand by respectfully. This is entirely in keeping with the color portrait of Hitler that precedes it.

Illustration in 1941 edition that depicts an anniversary celebration of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch

Illustration in 1941 edition that depicts an anniversary celebration of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch

Illustration from 1941 edition, showing a family listening to a war-time radio broadcast

Illustration from 1941 edition, showing a family listening to a war-time radio broadcast

Two other images in the 1941 edition encourage children consider themselves one with the Nazi Party. Page 28 depicts an anniversary celebration of the November 9, 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, which took place in front of the Feldherrnhalle in Munich. There are no children among the spectators. But the caption, which is flanked by flaming pylons commemorating Hitler’s followers killed during the abortive uprising, urges young readers to be brave and true to the cause.

Facing it is an illustration of a mother and three children listening to a radio broadcast, rapt during the performance of “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles.” Father is presumably away at war.

It was these three pictures and the portrait of Hitler that had been cut out of our patron’s copy of Mein Buch.

St. Nicholas, as depicted in the 1923 edition

St. Nicholas, as depicted in the 1923 edition

Treats left by St. Nicholas, and the naughty fruit

Treats left by St. Nicholas, and the naughty fruit

I also noticed some interesting changes in the illustrations about Christmas that seemed consistent with the Nazis’ emphasis on celebrating the holiday in the “authentic” German manner. Hans Volkert’s picture in the 1923 edition shows St. Nicholas carrying a lantern and marching along in the dark, with a switch for punishing bad children clearly visible under his arm. Just a few presents peep out of his bag and one from his pocket.

It is accompanied by two verses: the first imploring the saint to empty his bag at the singer’s house; and the second listing all the treats he left behind, with a jolly cartoon of the fruits being punished for their naughtiness over the past year.

Knecht Ruprecht, in color, replaces St. Nicholas in the 1941 edition

Knecht Ruprecht, in color, replaces St. Nicholas in the 1941 edition

The revised poem in the 1941 edition

The revised poem in the 1941 edition

In the spirit of reclaiming Christmas for the nation, Knecht Ruprecht, who accompanies Nicholas on his rounds according to German folklore, stands in for the Dutch saint in the 1941 edition. Knecht Ruprecht’s bag is literally bursting with toys and sweets and the switch is tied to the staff like another seasonal decoration.

The poem thanking Ruprecht for his generosity in rewarding good children says nothing about punishment….

Preface to the post-war edition, printed in English and German Fraktur, stating that its "issue does not imply that it is entirely suitable"

Preface to the post-war edition, printed in English and German Fraktur, stating that its “issue does not imply that it is entirely suitable”

St Nikolaus returns, here with cozier and miter, printed in black-and-white, presumably due to post-war austerity

St Nikolaus returns, here with cozier and miter, printed in black-and-white, presumably due to post-war austerity

Mein Buch was deNazified when Allied Expeditionary Forces occupied Germany after the Third Reich fell, down to the images of Christmas. The image of the children playing is reprinted in black and white and it faces a notice in English and German stating that this book’s contents are suspect, but that it can be used until that time when better ones can replace it.

St. Nikolaus the Dutch saint returns in a new flowered robe and carrying an even bigger bag with still more toys spilling out of it.

All these changes to Mein Buch suggests just how important a standard elementary schoolbook can be to a political regime–or occupying force–looking to create loyalty in tomorrow’s citizens.