A Klemm illustration for Faust

Throughout the German-speaking world and Eastern Europe, the last night of April is traditionally the night for witchiness – Walpurgis Night, named after the ninth century saint Walpurga, who reportedly knew how to cure people from plague, rabies and whooping cough. Whether she was herself something of a witch or was just protecting her own reputation, Walpurgis gradually became a night of bonfires, revelry and wantonness, when devils and their kin both internal and external were celebrated and – usually rather half-heartedly – ‘warded off’.

In 1913 the Dachau-based publisher Einhorn had commissioned Walther Klemm to produce a series of woodcuts to illustrate Goethe’s Faust; Part 1 was published in 1918 just after the First World War was over, and Part 2 in 1923. Goethe’s famous play makes several references to Walpurgis, which gave Klemm artistic licence to produce some memorable and atmospheric illustrations.

It may well have been the Faust commission that engaged his fertile imagination to produce some more fanciful engravings relating to devilish Walpurgis revelries. We only have a couple of attempts at a title page, three watercolours and a few sketches towards a possible Walpurgis portfolio, but they are enough to show that if he had had the courage and encouragement to publish such a title he may well have created something on a par with Otto Schoff’s Orgien. On the other hand, given what happened to Schoff, maybe it was best that he didn’t.

An eighteenth century engraving of The Brocken

The plate featuring ‘Blocksberg’ is a reference to the highest peak in northern Germany, more usually called The Brocken, which has always played a role in legends and has been connected with witches and devils. The Brocken Spectre is a common phenomenon on this misty mountain, where a climber’s shadow cast upon fog can create an eerie optical effect. Klemm’s sexual interpretation of the peak is more witty than eerie.

We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp for these images; Hans-Jürgen, the compiler of many books on erotic art, curates the Venusberg online gallery and bookshop which you can find here.