Tom Seidmann-Freud’s Book of Hare Stories (1924)

“Quite often in dreams it is the hare that shoots the sportsman.”—Sigmund Freud, “The Dream-Work”

Hares and rabbits have been known to serve as messengers between the conscious world and those deeper warrens of the mind. In Tom Seidmann-Freud’s 1924 Buch Der Hasengeschichten (Book of Hare Stories), folk and fairy tales are collected from across the globe, chosen for their leporine heroes. The stories are often comic and bleak; their anthropomorphic animals live in worlds darkened by adulthood. In a version of a Norwegian tale collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe, a recently married hare somersaults across a vale, recounting the reasons for his happiness. Soon after his wedding — to a woman with hairy teeth, who turned out to be a dragon — a fire broke out, reducing his home to ash . . . and his wife burned up too. In addition to fables from Inuit, Zulu, and Pomeranian oral traditions, there is a variant of the Br’er Rabbit “tar baby” story; a spin-off of Aesop’s “Hares and Frogs”, which opens with a bevy of bunnies who would rather kill themselves than live in fear; and an opaque Estonian aphorism about a hare who laughs so hard that its lips burst.

At the turn of the century, German children’s literature was stuck in a mire of repetition and pedantry. “We have the most glorious things, gleaming gold treasures and gems”, wrote the education reformer Heinrich Wolgast in The Misery of Our Children’s Literature (1896), “and we choose to adorn the spring of our people with dull junk.” Combining the stylistic traits of Art Nouveau, New Objectivity, and Expressionism, Tom Seidmann-Freud belonged to a crop of artists who began to make children’s literature into a primary artform, when it had so often been treated as a supplement to more “serious” endeavors. While the stories she collects in the Buch Der Hasengeschichten might be familiar, her illustrations are strikingly new and bizarre. Against a rich pastel pallet, humans and animals have wide-eyed expressions, as if warning the viewer against looking too closely. A standing man and hare hold each other suggestively; giraffes appear to embalm a corpse in yellow; and a scene that initially registers as cute — featuring two little girls and hares in a rainbow-lit landscape — starts to feel utterly unheimlich as the eyes linger on. One of the girls, in a salmon skirt, rides her hare toward a funhouse whose door is a sinister void. The other looks on from a house that should be, well, homey, but its proportions seem to shrink around her gesturing arm: is she pointing somewhere over the rainbow or begging for release?

illustration of hare fableScroll through the whole page to download all images before printing. Buy as a Print

Born in Vienna, Tom (née Martha) Seidmann-Freud (1892–1930) was the daughter of Maria Freud, Sigmund’s sister. Around the age of fifteen, she assumed the name Tom — preferring its masculine tone — and moved abroad to study art in London and Berlin, finally settling in Munich. Here, she befriended the scholar Gershom Scholem, who would remember her as: “an authentic bohemian”, who “lived on cigarettes, so to speak”. Expelled from Bavaria in 1920 due to her father’s Romanian citizenship, she returned to Berlin, where she created children’s books and founded the Peregrin publishing house — named after the Latin peregrinus, a Roman term for foreigner — with Jankew Seidmann, her soon-to-be husband. In one of only a handful of private letters that have survived, we can hear the excitement of this period in Tom’s own words: “Jakele is good and clever and I love him very much. In spring, all our sins will be forgiven. Which I really need!” It was through Peregrin that the Buch Der Hasengeschichten was released, along with 1923’s Die Fischreise (The Fish’s Journey), the story of a young boy who finds a golden realm beneath the waves, published shortly after her teenage brother drowned in the Mäckersee. She worked for a time with the poet Hayim Nahman Bialik to illustrate fairy tales in Hebrew — intended to stock Zionist schools in Palestine — and later turned to pedagogical texts. The quality of these primers and copybooks made Walter Benjamin poignantly suggest, during a glowing review in the Frankfurter Zeitung, that “where children play, a secret lies buried”.

illustration of hare fableScroll through the whole page to download all images before printing.

As Seidmann-Freud entered her mid-thirties, her cousin Anna Freud reported that the artist’s natural “warmth and kindness” had waned, confiding in the psychoanalyst Max Eitingon that “[Tom] has had a certain tendency to suicide for a long time, and was once very close to it when she was young”. In 1930, Seidmann-Freud’s Magic Boat and Game Primer No. 1 were voted to be among the fifty most beautiful books published in Germany, but it was already too late. Bialik had agreed to invest in Ophir, a publishing house set up by Jankew, but left for Tel Aviv without honoring his contract. Crumbling under the pressures of bankruptcy as the Great Depression set in, Jankew hanged himself, and fearing that his wife would follow him into death, the Freuds committed Tom to a sanitorium, taking in her seven-year-old daughter, Angela. Sigmund was among the last to witness Tom alive, writing that “the sight of her is terrible”. She died by suicide in February, 1930, at the age of thirty-eight.

RightsUnderlying Work RightsPD Worldwide
Digital Copy Rights

No Additional Rights

Found ViaFound Via

50 Watts