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HVVACC Exhibits

Modernity vs. Nature: 20th Century Woodcut Prints

Image of item
Ernst Barlach
Hexenritt, 1923
printing ink
woodcut (print)
19.05 x 14.61 cm (7 1/2 x 5 3/4 inches)

Ernst Barlach was an early 20th century German sculptor and printmaker.

Hexenritt (Witch’s Ride) is one of a set of 20 woodcuts that Barlach made as illustrations for Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night), a book based on Goethe’s Faust I. Barlach used his illustrations to embellish on the Walpurgisnacht scene in which Faust and Mephistopheles partake in a witches’ ball.

The print depicts a scene of witchcraft in an ominous forest. A witch on a broomstick cries out in anguish as her hair is pulled by a floating woman in the top left corner. In the distance, there are two other witches; one rides forward on a goat and the other also flies on a broomstick. Below, two figures, Faust and Mephistopheles, creep across the landscape. The cramped arrangement of supernatural figures within a setting of looming trees and jagged rocks elicits feelings of unease in the viewer.

This imaginary scene may seem unrelated to the struggles of modern life. However, in the 1920s many German artists and writers looked to Goethe’s Faust for inspiration. This turn towards fantastical and escapist source material is most likely related to the effect of World War I on Germany.

Originally, Barlach viewed the war as an opportunity for permanent, societal change. Later, after serving in the war himself and being discharged for medical reasons, Barlach realized that he was truly horrified by modern warfare and the consequences it held for society.