Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Mystery of Stefan Mart

Stefan Mart, Tales of the Nations

Yesterday, I discovered a mystery, and if you liked the wonderful image of Don Quixote that appeared in my blog, then you may also have gone on to discover the same mystery.

That image of Don Quixote was borrowed from the Stefan Mart Homepage, which was set up in 2004 and from which the above image is also taken, but the book itself appeared in Germany in 1933. It was loved by millions of children but, apparently, suppressed by the Nazis as Hitler's political star rose because the book "seemed to respect other cultures." After the war, the book again rose in popularity among children.

Oddly, nobody seems to know who Stefan Mart was, and the name itself seems to have been a pseudonym.

This is a mystery, for the artist -- whoever he was -- exhibits great technical skill, fine attention to detail, expressive use of color, lively ability with perspective, and unforgettable mastery of caricature. Rainer W├╝rgau, who maintains the website, says it better:
So who was Stefan Mart? For the moment all we can say is that he is the master who created Tales of the Nations. We do not know whether he wrote and illustrated other books under this name, or created other works, nor can we exclude the possibility that the tales and pictures are the work of two people. But we do know that the illustrator of the tales was an outstanding graphic artist and painter who struck out on a path all of his own making. He obviously had first-rate training, but he made such original use of everything which can be learnt during a course of studies in art that one has the impression he learnt his craft effortlessly. The caricature is the centre of his talent: the representation of facial expressions and gestures. He is an actor with brush and crayon. His style is versatile: he is a parodist; he is familiar with the world of European painting and with the various genres -- landscape painting, still lifes, anatomical painting, costumes, architecture, seascapes and above all animal studies. He is aware of the value of his knowledge and skills: he neither allows himself to be carried away by modernism, nor does he remain fettered by tradition. He achieves the remarkable feat of directing these two very divergent forces as it were into one river bed. The garish, loud, abstract and crazy elements of modern art have their place in this pictorial language; at the same time it remains true to the principles of naturalism: represents and imitates expressions and gestures of man and beast with profound empathy. The result transcends the limits of the book as medium and that of the static image. The artist is fully aware of this and is striving towards new horizons: towards the motion picture, the cinema, in particular the animated cartoon: Stefan Mart is a pioneer of the modern cartoon.
A pioneer, but also truly great at what he did, yet he is almost totally forgotten. I urge readers to go to the website and take a look. Here's another sample, from an 'American' story titled "Bobby Box" that Stefan Mart himself seems to have created.

Although Stefan Mart sometimes allows his caricature to slip into stereotypes in depicting people of the 'nations', I don't have the impression that the artist intended anything demeaning. He simply seems to be having great fun.

You will, too.

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At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am mystified by the cartoon/like insert at the bottom of the blog.
Having been shocked on occasion while wiring houses, I can understand the facial expression, and also the possibility of a lightning strike travelling underground to an unsuspecting victim, but why the buffalo herd, which is running toward, not away from, the rain and lightning storm?
But subtle nuances escape me, being of more practical bent.
(Or possibly "obtuse" would be a better description). Too many concussions and a fractured skull years ago may be the reason, also.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good questions, Uncle Cran . . . but perhaps the storm is moving in the direction of the wind, which seems to be pushing the rain it the same direction headed by the buffalo herd.

Possibly, the buffalo are rushing away from other lightning strikes?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:54 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Interesting, and mysterious! I'll take a look at the website soon.

... And welcome back, by the way. ^^

At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Melissa. It's good to be back, and I hope that you enjoy the Stefan Mart website.

Jeffery Hodges

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