Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

18 May 2015

David Hockney had always loved the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales and in 1969 decided to make a suite of 39 etchings for six of his favourite tales.

The images are testimony to Hockney’s imagination and draughtsmanship and are his response to the spirit of each tale rather than simple illustrations. The Fairy Tale images show his extraordinary range as an artist and are considered to be one of his finest bodies of work.


The Little Sea Hare

This tale tells the story of a Princess who ‘lived in a castle in a large room high up under the battlements. She could see her whole kingdom from twelve windows….’

The Princess proclaimed that she would only marry the boy who could hide from her all seeing eyes. If anyone tried to hide, and failed, they would be beheaded. So the story commences and the boy successfully hides in a number of places including an egg and a fish. These elements of the tale are captured in the beautiful etchings ‘The Boy Hidden in an Egg’(see below) and ‘The Boy Hidden in a Fish’.

In the end The Princess cannot find the boy and the two eventually marry. He becomes ruler of the kingdom and never tells her all the places where he had hidden.











A giant bird snatched a child from its mother’s arms and left him in the branches of a tree. A forester found the child, named it Fundevogel, and took him home to raise it with his other child. The two children grew to love each other but they had a cook who intended to boil Fundevogel in a big pot.

The children decide to run away and, in order to evade the evil cook, they have to magically turn into a rosebush and a church tower. Hockney depicts these events in his two etchings The Rose and Rose Stalk and The Church Tower and Clock (see below). Finally they turn themselves into a lake with a duck swimming in it. The cook decides to drink from the lake only to be pulled into the water by the duck.

The cook drowns and the children get home before the forester knows what has happened.



Whilst looking out of her window a woman had noticed some luscious rapunzel lettuces growing in the garden that belonged to an Enchantress. The woman desired to eat them so much that her husband decided to sneak into the garden at night and steal some for his wife. The Enchantress caught him and demanded that he give her the couples’ baby when she was born.

The man agreed and when the baby was born the Enchantress took it away and named her Rapunzel.

In his etching ‘The Enchantress with the Baby Rapunzel’ Hockney portrays the old crone as hideously ugly. Is this why she has to steal a child? Maybe she is so unattractive that she can’t find a man willing to father a child with her.

At the age of twelve Rapunzel is locked in a tower with no doors or steps but just a window at the top. A handsome Prince soon discovers that he can climb into the tower using Rapunzels’ hair as a rope. In his etching ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair’ (see below) Hockney looks to the Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello for inspiration and his Prince on horseback clearly refers to the style of the Italian master.

After failing to rescue Rapunzel from the tower the Prince roams the forests mourning his loss. However after many years he reaches the desert where Rapunzel lived and he discovered that she had borne his twins. The Prince took Rapunzel and the children back to his kingdom and they all lived happily ever after.


The boy who left home to learn fear

In this tale a boy cannot feel fear and so he sets off on a journey with the objective of learning how to shudder. He encounters a sexton who disguises himself as a ghost and even spends the night around a fire with two corpses. However, none of these events cause him any fear. ‘Haunted Castle’ shows a castle on a hill with one side bathed in moonlight and the other eerily in shadow. It is said the castle is guarded by monsters and evil spirits but this holds no fear for the boy and he spends three nights sleeping there.

In his powerful etchings ‘A Black cat Leaping’ (see below) and ‘Inside the Castle’ Hockney portrays the central figure looking calm and impassive. Still he feels no fear.

It is only when he finally marries that he learns to be scared. His wife throws a bucket of cold water and fish into his face while he was sleeping at which he cries ‘why do I shudder so?’


Old Rinkrank

The tale starts ‘A king built a glass mountain and announced that he would give his daughter to the first man who would climb it without falling.’ A handsome boy who loved the Princess took up the challenge and the Princess went with him to offer help should he slip. However, it was the Princess who fell and ended up inside the mountain.

Hockney was fascinated with how he should draw a glass mountain. In his etching ‘The Glass Mountain’ he depicted a tree and a house with the glass mountain in front distorting their refection.

The story continues with the Princess being captured by the strange little man Rinkrank who lives in the mountain. In his etching ‘Old Rinkrank threatens the Princess’(see below), Hockney shows the figures against a gloomy dark background apart from a glimmer of light coming from above. The Princess looks to be holding her hands together in supplication and the image is again evocative of a Renaissance painting

Rinkrank carries a ladder in his pocket and it this that many years later helps the Princess to escape.



A poor miller boasted to the King that he had a beautiful daughter who could spin straw into gold. The King was curious and so took her to a room filled with straw and ordered her to start spinning gold. He gave her one night to do it and said she would have her head cut off if she failed.

The girl had no idea what to do and burst into tears. Then a strange little man rushes into the room and sees the girls’ dilemma. In exchange for her necklace he spins the straw into gold.

On his return the King was delighted and gives the girl even more straw to spin into gold. In his etching ‘A Roomful of Straw’ Hockney refers to Magritte’s surrealist games in depicting the room dwarfed by the pile of straw.

The strange man continues to spin gold for the woman and the King keeps giving her more to do. On the last occasion the strange man asks her to promise that, after she has married the King, she will give him her child. She agrees and subsequently marries the |King.

A year later she has a child and the strange man arrives to claim the son. She wept so bitterly that he agreed for her to keep the boy if she could guess the strange man’s name. After many attempts she learns form a messenger that the strange man is called Rumpelstilzchen.