Katelhon, Hermann (1884-1940)

Katelhon, Hermann (1884-1940)

German etcher and draughtsman Hermann Kätelhoen captured both the compelling beauty of nature and the gritty, grimy stain industrialisation marked across it. Working in the early 20th century, he would document the countless developments in the relationship between the countryside and humanity through his sharply realistic etchings.

Kätelhoen began his artistic career training as a ceramicist. He found much success and acclaim in his studies at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts, and even went on to work in the studio of acclaimed ceramicist Karl Kornhas (1857-1931). However, ill health forced his hand and his heart to find a new venture.

He discovered it in Munich, at the Academy of Fine Arts. Here Kätelhoen was taught by the esteemed etcher Peter Halm (1854-1923). A fire was lit and began to burn fiercely as Kätelhoen found new passion and creativity in the practice of etching.

Etching has a long and established history in Germany. The first etchings to be printed onto paper were produced in Germany in the 15th century, and German soldier Ludwig von Siegen (1609-1680) is posited as inventing the engraving technique of mezzotint in the 17th century. The medium had grown in popularity and, by the 20th century, developments in mass printing disseminated etchings widely.

There was a business and creative spark to be found in carving an image into a metal or wooden sheet and then using ink to transfer the image onto paper. Kätelhoen had landed upon something that would provide income whilst allowing him to stretch his artistic wings.

Kätelhoen found his inspiration in studies of nature, and most importantly, its relationship to humanity. After graduating from the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, he worked and lived for a time in the Willingshausen region. An artists’ colony had been established there in the early 19th century, and soon enough Kätelhoen became a part of its latest cohort.

The Willingshausen painters focussed on traditional folklife in the Schwalm region of Germany, where industrialisation was slowly creeping in but had yet to steal away traditional, rural beauty and living. Kätelhoen began his etching career experimenting with capturing the transcendental beauty of nature through ink and paper. There is a delicate realism in his study of a distinguished oak tree, standing sentinel over two, lowly field workers lounging in its shade. He stirs up the bushel of bursting canopies in quick lines denoting leaves. The prominent trunk is effectively highlighted through a lack of ink which transforms it into a stark, solid pillar. Kätelhoen captures the reality of the scenes set before him whilst also utilising the unique craft of etching to become a translator of this reality.

Kätelhoen’s canny ability soon turned towards depicting the industrial changes coming to mark Germany’s landscape. His oeuvre featured less of the traditional scenes of folk life and more and more the gritty realities of Germany’s development. The smog of choking factories casts a hazy fog across pallid skies, and bold, abrupt blocks invade the softer countryside as industrial machinery sets to work.

Kätelhoen’s studies of nature and humanity are most effectively demonstrated in a series of prints he executed depicting mining life in Essen. Here, the focus is more squarely on the workers. They become shifting shapes of black and white lines, carving out blocks of light across the paper as they carve out the carcass of their underground world. Kätelhoen utilises lines which bend and twist and seemingly chip away at the paper to form the faces of the workers, mirroring the everyday assault assailed on the earth. There is an impressionistic tinge to these etchings which speaks less of a realistic depiction and more of a gritty feeling as being the key ingredient to the etchings’ success. The method of etching mirrors the method of mining.

Kätelhoen’s studies of the miners of Essen are an important social and cultural document of the relationship between nature and humanity in Germany in the early 20th century. 

Kätelhoen established his own engraving and printing workshop in 1928, which would continue to be run by his son, Henner, and his son Martin after him, following Kätelhoen’s death in 1940.

1884

Born in Hofgeismar, Germany.

Spent his childhood in Marburg, Germany.

1903

Enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe.

1905

Enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, and studied under Peter Halm (1854-1923).

1908

Returned to Matburg and joined the Willingshäuser artists colony. Produced various drawings, etchings and woodcuts of the region.

1917

Married Toni Plettner, a painter.

Moved to Essen where he began documenting the ever-evolving industrial landscape. It was here that he produced ‘Die Arbeit’, an important portfolio depicting mining scenes and the lives of miners.

1925

Birth of son, Henner Katelhon (1925-2009) who also became a printmaker.

1940

Died in Munich, Germany.

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