Modernism

Conny MEISSENDas Männchen. Eine Bildergeschichte für Kinder [The Little Man. A Picture Book for Children].

Berlin, Herbert Stuffer Verlag, 1926.

8vo (200 x 145 mm.), publisher’s coloured pictorial boards, orange paper spine. (16)pp. With 19 hand-coloured illustrations in the text by Conny Meissen, who also wrote the story. Complete.

First trade edition (preceded in 1922 by a manuscript version limited to 46 copies for private distribution among the artist’s friends).

One of the great twentieth century avant-garde children’s books, very much in advance of its time in Germany, with simple illustrations in primary colours showing a Cubist and Constructivist influence, with a high degree of abstraction, and simple rhymes in the tradition of nineteenth-century children’s book classics such as Struwelpeter.

The story of a little man who always gets in mischief because of his curiosity. Due to his tiny size he is able to crawl into coffeepots, snail houses, and inkpots. He annoys mice by pulling their tails, and he is sometimes scolded by his mother because of his thoughtless behavior.

The book presents objects and figures in a minimalist style, the contours are emphasized by a black outline, the colour scheme is restricted to the primary colours red, blue and yellow, and to the secondary colours green and brown. It is considered as one of the earliest German examples of picture books displaying a matchstick man-like figure as the main protagonist. Published for Christmas, the book gained immediate enthusiasm among cosmopolitan Berliners and launched Stuffer’s publishing career. A sequel was published in 1927 (The Little Man and the Magician). Conny Meissen’s pictorial composition stood in striking contrast to the conventional picture book of the Weimar period, setting a completely new accent in the design of picture books and anticipating in a way comic strip art.

The second book published by Herbert Stuffer (b.1892) in Berlin, one of the most inspiring personalities of the Berlin children’s book scene. In July 1926 he founded a publishing house in Berlin-Charlottenburg, in which he published primarily picture books, youth writings and fiction. Open-minded he supported the artistic innovations with ambitious children’s book projects; a great promoter of Modernism, he worked only with contemporary authors and illustrators, among whom were Karin Michaëlis, Lisa Tetzner, Conny Meissen, Tom Seidmann-Freud, Susanne Ehmcke, Elsa Eisgruber and Friedrich Böer.

After a passage at the Kunstgewerbeschule [School of Decorative Arts] of Düsselforf, the artist and illustrator Conny Constanze Meissen (1887-1955) took private painting lessons in Munich (because the Academy refused to allow women entry). In 1914 she married the painter Will Haas (1884-1953), a daughter Karin was born in 1918. The couple was divorced in 1924. Until 1926 Conny Meissen lived in Wessling, Bavaria. It is there that she created her character “Das Männchen” in a 1922 book privately designed for her daughter with handwritten text and coloured pictures, which she distributed among her friends. This version appeared, slightly revised, as the second picture book of the Stuffer publishing house in 1926. Conny Meissen subsequently moved to Cologne, where she worked in the furniture store Gebr. Schürmann (the largest and most modern home furnishing shop of the time) as head of the newly created Arts and Crafts department. After the “aryanization” of the store in the 1930s, she worked as a freelance designer, creating posters for example. In 1937 Conny travelled to Mexico and wrote her impressions in her children’s book, “Thomas writes from Mexico”, published in Berlin in 1938. Another trip to Mexico followed in 1939. Because of the war her return to Germany was delayed until 1954. Seriously ill, she died the following year.

Front board faintly stained, else a very good copy.

Ref. Bilderwelt im Kinderbuch, 655 /Stuck-Villa, II, 257 (with 2 reproductions) / Hoffmann/Thiele, 201 / Doderer/Müller, 311-313 / Einer kämpft für das Jugendbuch, Der Baden-Badener Verleger Herbert Stuffer, Katalog zur Ausstellung des Verlagswerks in der Stadtbibliothek Baden-Baden, (2014), pp. 16-17 / Not in Catalogue of the Cotsen Children’s Library

Price: Sorry this book has just been sold

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