Collection Spotlight: The Peaceable Kingdom, Fritz Eichenberg

Fritz Eichenberg (American, b. German, 1901–1990) was one of the most prolific printmakers of the 20th-century, making wood engravings for newspapers, children’s books, classic literature, and social justice movements. Born to a Jewish family in Cologne, Germany, Eichenberg saw firsthand the devastation caused by World War I, which crafted his pacifist, antiwar sentiments. And when Hitler became chancellor in 1933 , Eichenberg immigrated with his family to the United States. However, the artist’s religious affiliation drastically changed after the unexpected death of his wife in 1937. Eichenberg first attempted practicing Zen Buddhist meditation, but ultimately found solace as a Quaker with the Religious Society of Friends. Through his affiliation with the Quaker community and his connections in the publishing industry, Eichenberg met Dorothy Day, a devout Catholic and founder of The Catholic Worker newspaper. Although originally printed for the Society of American Etchers, Gravers, Lithographers, and Woodcutters, it was in Day’s publication that Eichenberg’s The Peaceable Kingdom(1950) found a wider audience.

Thematically taken from the book of Isaiah, The Peaceable Kingdom exemplifies the theological overlaps between Eichenberg’s Quaker beliefs and Day’s Catholicism, touting the importance of unity among all peoples through the active display of nonviolence. The abundance of diverse animals draped over one another is the most obvious example of this message: a lamb rests against a wolf, a young deer climbs on a leopard, and a child holds a rabbit. With a barren tree and ominous cityscape in the background, the work also encourages fraternal camaraderie in the face of hardship and social change. This credo would have been particularly important in 1950, when President Truman was justifying the production of the hydrogen bomb.

—Isaac Alpert (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences)

You can make an appointment to see this work and others from the Block Museum’s permanent collection. Email printroom@northwestern.edu for more information.

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