Jacob Grimms’ Study in Berlin – Wilhelm Grimms’ Study in Berlin comprises two photoetchings in black ink on white wove paper. They depict the interiors of two, quite similar, nineteenth-century rooms, both executed from roughly the same viewpoint. The interiors are meticulously drawn with fine lines and little shading, which emphasises the geometry of the spaces and the precise detail of their contents. In both, a desk and an empty chair are centrally placed. The other furnishings include shelves lined with books and numerous framed pictures.
The two prints that make up T11937 are derived from a set of five pairs of drawings of the libraries or studies in the Berlin home of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the German collectors of fairytales. Graham commissioned the drawings from Derek Root. They were produced after renderings by Robert Kleyn using the design software AutoCAD. The prints were published by Yves Gevaert in Brussels. Tate’s example is the fifth in an edition of seventy-five.
Graham has commented that the Brothers Grimm, ‘shared ... two adjoining and symmetrically disposed studies connected by a door’ (quoted in Rodney Graham, 2002, p.68). Graham’s set of drawings and the photoetchings that comprise T11937 refer directly to four watercolours of the writers’ studies produced in 1861 by the German artist Moritz Hoffmann (1823–96). Hoffmann’s paintings, which view the two rooms from the same angle and thereby diminish the sense of their connectedness, minutely describe their furnishings. Whilst the writers themselves are not shown, the rooms are dominated by signs of their work, particularly their desks in the foreground and the literary paraphernalia on and around them.
Both Moritz’s paintings and Graham’s prints emphasise the similarities between the brothers’ rooms. However, Graham is concerned in his interpretations with subtly rearranging the furnishings so as to modify the original organisation of the spaces as recorded by Moritz. ‘Treating the rooms as closed communicating vessels’, Graham elaborated, ‘I have moved furniture books, sculptures, etc, to make other possible pairs or ‘double rooms’ which reflect one another as exactly as possible’ (quoted in Rodney Graham, 2002, p.68).
With their echoes of the earlier images, the prints Jacob Grimms’ Study in Berlin – Wilhelm Grimms’ Study in Berlin evoke the idea of the uncanny – the feeling of the unfamiliar or strange suggested by the familiar – described by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) in his essay of 1918. Graham’s original concept for the images is linked to the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), as the artist has explained:
A passage on Kierkegaard’s Repetition, which I encountered some years ago and which uncannily describes just such a double chamber, was a spur to the work. When I saw the four Hoffman watercolours in a catalogue produced by the Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel several years after reading Repetition I was struck by the connection and the work came out of this fortuitous conjunction of text and image.
(Quoted in Rodney Graham, 2002, p.68.)
Graham’s works often play with themes of repetition. [La Véranda] (T11931) 1989, for example, comprises two identical books that are French translations of a short story by the American author Herman Melville (1819–91) called The Piazza. They are held together by a paper sleeve on which two views of the country house that inspired Melville’s story are printed.
Rodney Graham, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2002.
Rodney Graham: A Little Thought, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2003.
Dorothea Zwirner, Rodney Graham, Cologne 2004.