Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kley's "Demons of Krupp"

German artist Heinrich Kley is best known for his satirical animal drawings that influenced the work of Walt Disney. But he was also a great painter of industrial subjects. 

In this large oil painting, he portrays gigantic monsters lounging in an industrial space. The puny humans struggle to manage red-hot crucibles of molten metal to feed the giants, who toss them back like glasses of beer.

The creatures, which resemble satyrs or devils, should probably be regarded more as genies or benevolent demons, representing the archaic creative forces that the factories tamed and made to work for their purposes. The image is not meant as a criticism of industry or labor.

If you know Kley’s pen and ink work, it’s not surprising to see such a tour de force of anatomy, but his skills as a painter are a wonderful surprise, too. After his studies in Karlsruhe and Munich, he began as a landscape and genre painter.

He uses a “hatching” style of brushstrokes to describe the muscles, bones, and sagging flesh of each creature. He varies the color of the planes as they turn toward the warm light below or the cool light above. The interior has wonderful atmospheric depth, and the perspective is accurate, with the eye level set just above the heads of a standing human worker.


The painting, “Demons of Krupp,” dates from 1911 and was commissioned by the Krupp family, founder of Krupp Industries. It is part of an exhibition about the Krupp industries currently going on in Germany.
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23 comments:

bill said...

This is a real revelation. I have admired his drawings for a long time but have never really looked at this painting. Thanks.

Tom Hart said...

Amazing. I can see the influence on the Disney artists, as you mention. Fantasia - especially the devil - comes immediately to mind.

Groo said...

Reminds me very much of Adolph Menzel's classic Iron Rolling Mill, painted between 1872 and 1875.

twilightcat said...

Very cool!

Anonymous said...

I admit any picture with factory workers surrounded by demons looks like a criticism to me. I can't see the difference between nice demons and bad demons. Other than the image being commissioned by an industry guy, how can you tell these demons are benevolent?

Steve said...

I have the same question as Anonymous. My well-worn copy of Kley's book from Dover contains sketches that always struck me as criticisms of factories and industry. Some of those sketches could be preparatory work for this painting. I'm thinking of Sabotage (Betriebsstörung) and What a devilish stench! (Pfui Deifl!), p. 15 and 17 in Dover. The "demons" show up several times in the sketchbook as agents of subversion, undermining edifices of industry and organized religion.

James Gurney said...

Steve and Anonymous, that's a reasonable objection, and you raise a good point: Kley certainly did drawings of giants plugging up smokestacks and wreaking havoc.

About this painting, one account of describes the men as slaves of the giant "devils" but I don't think there's much evidence for that view, either. I changed the title of the post from the "Devils of Krupp" to the "Demons of Krupp," to suggest the old Greek sense of daemon as a pagan spirit without the moral baggage of "devil" or "monster."

My best guess, not knowing anything about the commission or Kley's personal intent, is that these creatures are sort of semi-tamed wild spirits of energy or creation, and the humans are either serving them or collaborating with them. I would see the giants as benevolent in the sense of channeling primal forces to serve the creative needs of the factory process.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr. Gurney for sharing these little-known gems, as always.

However, I share fellow Anon.’s (above) doubt regarding the positive interpretation of the painting. Surely, an imaginative artist such as Kley could have easily chosen a different color scheme and composition than these for the alleged cheerful intent? The painting has an unmistakable sinister quality to it: it immediately looks like Hell.

And the alleged “masters” in the picture—the factory workers—look so insignificant as to be almost unnoticeable (which relates to the point of Mr. Kley varing the composition if he so willed), and not necessarily enjoying themselves, in contrast to the demons, who greedily glug down molten metal. Besides, circus trainers notwithstanding, isn’t it usually the case that servants feed masters, not the opposite?

Moreover, Mr. Kley being primarily a caricaturist, shouldn’t we lean, in a case of doubt, to the judgment that an ambiguous work of his constitutes criticism rather than praise? (Just glance at some of his less-than-flattering work)

Finally, and perhaps giving credence to the preceding point, given that this is one of the very few works that Mr. Kley chose to set down in painting, isn’t it more likely that he had something more substantial here to convey than yet another unqualified praise for, and optimism in, the power of industry?

Again, thank you Mr. Gurney for sharing this interesting painting, even though I don’t wholeheartedly agree with your interpretation of it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr. Gurney for sharing these little-known gems, as always.

Clicking 'Preview' to double-check my comment, I see that you have already answered that point, but since I have written it...

I share fellow Anon.’s and Steve's doubt regarding the positive interpretation of the painting. Surely, an imaginative artist such as Kley could have easily chosen a different color scheme and composition than these for the alleged cheerful intent? The painting has an unmistakable sinister quality to it: it immediately looks like Hell.

And the alleged “masters” in the picture—the factory workers—look so insignificant as to be almost unnoticeable (which relates to the point of Mr. Kley varing the composition if he so willed), and not necessarily enjoying themselves, in contrast to the demons, who greedily glug down molten metal. Besides, circus trainers notwithstanding, isn’t it usually the case that servants feed masters, not the opposite?

Moreover, Mr. Kley being primarily a caricaturist, shouldn’t we lean, in a case of doubt, to the judgment that an ambiguous work of his constitutes criticism rather than praise? (Just glance at some of his less-than-flattering work)

Finally, and perhaps giving credence to the preceding point, given that this is one of the very few works that Mr. Kley chose to set down in painting, isn’t it more likely that he had something more substantial here to convey than yet another unqualified praise for, and optimism in, the power of industry?

Again, thank you Mr. Gurney for sharing this interesting painting, even though I don’t wholeheartedly agree with your interpretation of it!

James Gurney said...

Anon and Steve: Here's what the exhibition text says about this painting (translated from German by Google translate):

"Heinrich Kley captures the mood of an economically resurgent country. It's the year 1911. The industry has made ​​Germany one of the leading nations in the world. People are proud of technology and progress, and there's a firm belief that nature and everything still seemed unpredictable 50 years ago, dominate, can be. Against this background, Kleys to see paintings: in the factory, the work rests on the machines , instead, hold huge devils and satyrs from a drinking binge. "Kleys devil and satyrs are allegorical figures who embody the gigantic and monstrously heavy industry," said Olge Dommer, research associate of the WIM.

"The picture is not meant as criticism of industry, on the contrary, the workers feed the, Krupp Devil 'with molten steel and keep it as under control -. A symbol that among the workers and the company is the immense forces of steel production control have. " The man has vanishingly small in view of the giants. But his diligence and know-how make it possible to combine the positive aspects of the energy to dominate the monumental. An encouraging picture that fits into the new consciousness of time and reflects an entrepreneurial ideology: the incalculable, the Explosive - represented by the devil - loses its horror, if it can be controlled with the help of new forms of production.... The "Krupp devil" are an example of how art can reflect the spirit of the time."

Steve said...

Man, I don't know, Jim...for me the matter is more one of "reading" the image rather than reading the exhibition text. It seems plain to me the workers do not "dominate the monumental." No big deal; I always have the highest respect for your thinking, but I'm still not persuaded -- given the obvious message of Kley's sketches -- that Kley intended this painting as unalloyed (pardon the pun) praise of industrial forces.

Anonymous said...

This is the first anon again.

It's difficult to determine the artist's intent for this painting. The human faces and body language don't reveal anything. Most of the demons are facing away from us, and their manner is equally ambiguous. We know Kley didn't struggle with conveying emotion in his drawings, but the smile on the demon's face seems equally likely to be either malicious or pleasant. None of the demons have clearly visible eyes... it's looks like all of their eyes are closed actually. The most expressive feature of the demons are their hands, which seem to be greedily grasping for steel.

One strange thing about this painting is the emptiness of the composition. The top half of the painting is only windows and rafters. It's as if Kley wanted the humans to look as tiny as possible.

If I were going to make a painting with tame demons assisting human beings, I would put something in the image making it clear that the demons and humans are getting along. Maybe they could be shaking hands, or the humans could have a proud demeanor, or one of the demons could have a kind expression on its face, or be doing something more helpful than drinking steel... which actually doesn't seem that helpful. Even if you remove the association of demons with evil, the size of the demons automatically sugests a power imbalance. If the roles were reversed, with giant people and small demons creating food for the humans, I would assume the humans controlled the demons. I would also speculate that the demons might not be happy about the situation.

It's possible that Kley wanted to create an critical image without admitting it. Or maybe he made an honest attempt to celebrate industry and didn't get the message across, either because he make ineffective decisions, or the message he was trying to convey conflicted with his own feelings. I have seen paintings that look to me like the artist was struggling to overcome his personal feelings and didn't quite succeed. For example, Norman Rockwell's portrait of Nixon is one of the few portraits he created that doesn't bring out any endearing qualities in the subject.

Nick said...

This image fascinates me because I feel so conflicted over how it's supposed to be read.

The low horizon line certainly shows off the factory, which fits into the exhibition's description...but I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the workers and devils.

However, I do like the devil on the left blowing the drink/ metal!

etc, etc said...

My best guess, not knowing anything about the commission or Kley's personal intent, is that these creatures are sort of semi-tamed wild spirits of energy or creation, and the humans are either serving them or collaborating with them. I would see the giants as benevolent in the sense of channeling primal forces to serve the creative needs of the factory process.

Makes perfect sense to me and, I'd bet, anyone who has studied iconology, allegory, and mythology. But that's something that requires time spent away from video games, of course.

PatternGhost said...

I see the painting as an observation that man has made a pact with the 'supernatural' forces of science. There is no hostility, only tension, because the dynamic with these new co-workers is so ambiguous.

It feels very successful to me because it raises a lot of interesting questions: Who is in charge? Do the benefits out-weigh the possible problems? Will the 'demons' rend the workers to pieces if they are displeased? Is that an acceptable price to produce the products?

I don't see it as a criticism, just a thoughtful warning. I think as modern workers we have a hard time appreciating how dangerous being a part of the early industrial work force was. I'm sure the painting would resonate with any factory worker of the time. Work was terrifying but filled with possibilities.

Rasmus said...

Hi, this is my first comment here, so I first want to say thank you James for your incredible work here!
I've been following your blog for about three years now and you have helped me tremendously in finding my way as an aspiring artist.

Back to the topic:
Although I can easily understand your point about those devils being "creative, raw spirits" James, after reading the exhibition text you quoted in German (and being a German native myself), it seems clear to me that this wasn't the intended allegory.

Let me begin with the title: "Die Krupp'schen Teufel". Although you might translate "Teufel" with demon, you must be aware that the word "Teufel" has a very specific meaning. While the Greek "daimon" can mean both evil and benevolent or neutral entities, the German "Teufel" is, much like the English "Devil", not that open to interpretation. It may describe different things, but what they all have in common is their evil nature and the word itself has practically no positive connotation in German.
I admit, the devils painted by Kley do not look all that evil and some clearly resemble satyrs or pagan spirits. But at least the title clearly indicates that they are far from benevolent or even neutral.

The exhibition text says that those creatures are meant to represent the monstrous, steel hungry "heavy industries". I'm not sure if there is an English equivalent, but in German, "Schwerindustrie" (or "heavy industries") is a collective noun for mining industry, iron and steel industry as well as chemical industry.

But I do believe the text contradicts itself in saying that those giants are symbols for the ever growing hunger for steel of the industrial age, but not meant as criticism. It claims that since Krupp Industries and its workers are able to keep those devils satisfied (but obviously nowhere near tamed i might add), this must be a celebration of the power of the steel industry.

Perhaps Kley did not intend to criticize the steel manufacturer Krupp or the steel production itself, but in depicting the most important industries of that time as lazy devils, drinking steel while the workers are barley able to keep up with production, I can't see how this is not in some form criticism of the industrial age.

In my opinion, he respected that the immense progress Germany was making at that time would be impossible without the steel industry. But he also tried to show that this came at a cost and that the industrial process took a great toll on the people, degrading them to merely feeding/calming the beast instead of really controlling it.

well, at least that's I make of it.

James Gurney said...

Rasmus, thanks so much for adding so much insight to this picture. I was hoping a German/English speaker could help us out, and it was nice of you to take the time to sort out all those connotations.

Perhaps we should give some credit to the Krupp company for commissioning a work that did not present an entirely positive view of their business, and we have to give Kley credit for his nuanced and paradoxical vision.

James Gurney said...

My German friend, Christoph Heuer, adds these insights about the Kley/Krupp connection after doing a little research on him:

"Born in Karlsruhe in 1863 he studied applied arts in Karlsruhe and specialized on historical paintings. He was not very successful in this field and it was by 1897 that he was commissioned a series of 100 Watercolor paintings of German cities.

"It was this work that brought him to the attention of the Krupp Steelworks in Essen. He became something like an official artist for them, starting off with watercolor paintings of the factories illustrating their workflow and praising their most modern techniques on steel production. But he also designed stationary for them as well certificates. But he would also be commissioned to work for most of the big industry companies in Germany.

"Enjoying the following financial benefits he moved to Munich where he started working for the "Simplicissimus" (a very critical satire magazine that was the mainstay of the German drawing illustrators in a time dominated by Wilhelminism) and the magazin "Jugend" (that gave name to the "Jugendstil"). I those years he developed his humanized animals that influenced Walt Disneys work so much. But he also did some sketches that already show the demons of Krupp. He must also have been very familiar with the troubles of the engineers for whom he illustrated, as he depicted in one drawing.

"The 1911 painting of the Demons of Krupp led both fields together. But in opposite to the Simplicissimus drawings, where the demons have fun playing their power on the workers, the Krupp painting shows tamed demons who work for alongside the workers. At least no longer harming them.."

Thanks, Christoph!

Natalia M. said...

I have loved Kley's sketches for a long time, I had no idea he had paintings as well. What a great find.

Rich said...

How about "Jinns of Krupp"?
Invisible to humans, the jinns occupy a similar place in the Muslim world.

Rich said...

How about "Jinns of Krupp"?
Invisible to humans, the jinns occupy a similar place in the Muslim world.

Tatteredbluebible said...

Hi Being a student and teacher of German History, I can't help but bring the historical perspective to this.

Krupp Industries, and the Krupp family presumably the commissioners of this painting were the leading steel industrialists of the 20th Century Germany.

Their key manufacturing was armaments - Tanks, Guns, Ammunition, Artillery etc.

The German industrial machine was remarkable in its mass production of aircraft, tanks, submarines, etc. Commissioned by no other than Adolf Hitler himself, industries were closely tied to the Nazi party, receiving funding and giving a portion of profits to the Nazi political machine.

My interpretation of the piece is that war industries are not independent entities but subject to the influence of the greater prevailing forces of political ambition, geopolitical tensions, national pride, ideology etc which drives creativity and innovation. Nazi ideology was notorious in its effect on violent nationalism at the expense of other races/nations.

Though technological breakthroughs in war technologies have changed and improved lives, they cause mass death and destruction. 60 million lives in world war 2. Its a morally tainted industry by nature.

Regards, Isaac

Tatteredbluebible said...

Additionally, there is an "insatiable" feeling to the demons - they desire more and more, ultimately, this is what leads to mass death, our demons which crave for more and are never satisfied.