The Art of Protest: Albert Hahn was righteous anger manifest. A graphic character assassin that even the mighty Germany Kaiser feared.
In his short life (1877-1918), the Dutch illustrator and social activist Albert Hahn annoyed the rich, the clergy, the government. He even managed to get under the skin of the mighty Germany Kaiser during WW1. The Dutch public however, absolutely adored him, buying newspapers just to see Hahn’s latest barbs. He railed in particular at the poverty he saw all around him and attacked anyone he saw as responsible for it; factory owners, the church, large landowners, rack renters, slum landlords, capitalists, politicians and corporations.
Born dirt poor, (“respectably poor,” he called it) in the northern city of Groningen, he contracted tuberculosis in the vertebrae as a child and was cursed with the affliction, on and off, for most of his life. Despite this, for most of his 41 years on the planet Hahn worked for what his values told him was the betterment of his fellow man. He produced over 4000 works in his stint here. Precious little survives. The majority available are posted here.
Hahn’s reserved his most potent venom and perhaps his most iconic work (for the Dutch at least) for one man in particular. Anti-Revolutionary Party founder and the then Dutch Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper.
Today, Hahn’s imagery of the politician is the imagery now associated with him, how he’s remembered, how he’s forever percieved.
Hahn was a ruthlessly effective character assassin.
A committed card carrying member of the Social Democratic Workers Party, Hahn had complete faith in the international labour movement and that it would win out in the end, bringing peace, harmony and prosperity to everyone.
Hahn’s work was, still is, (mis) labelled as “cartoons”. His portraits for example go way beyond charicature. If the aim of a portrait is to nail the very essence of a subject’s character, he was in fact a great portrait artist. Described by a contemporary as “always a friendly socialist”, he wasn’t always angry. When he wasn’t unleashing his immense graphic wrath on politicians and the like he made wonderful, considered, graphic yet soft portraits of his circle, the Amsterdam artistic set; actors and actresses, classical musicians, fellow artists and authors.
He was also a sought-after graphic artist and typographer. He could hand draw type and craft wonderful posters. He did this for brands, for social movements and for all kinds of exhibitions and events.
World War 1 came as a huge disappointment to Hahn and, like the neutral Netherlands, he took no side in it, viewing the war as simply a direct consequence of greedy economic systems. War, the though is the true face of capitalism. He did however, fire his arrows more often at the German warlords that at the allies and his aim was true.
Hahn’s was outspoken, driven and focussed, the truths his work cantained delivered with savage grace. His pen was a weapon. The German Kaiser Wilhelm II himself was reduced to protesting about Hahn’s work, the Dutch government intervened. Hahn’s work jeopardised the unsteady neutralism of the Netherlands.
Hahn died, during a tuberculosis attack in August 1918. Just 41.