“No sooner had I settled in than I began to work on a chicken, an independent project apart from the standing nude model. The red potter’s clay was later pressed into a plaster mould and fired to become my first terracotta. The chicken sketches from my French journey had proved their worth, and I would continue to be stimulated by roosters and chickens, verbally as well as visually, right down to my poem “The Merits of Windfowl”.”
This is how Günter Grass describes his first art motifs, hens and chickens, in his book of memories Peeling the Onion (2006). While waiting for a ride on his hitchhiking trips to Italy in 1951 and to France one year later, the poultry is a welcome object for study, which he captures in scores of sketches and movement studies. The figure of the bird is thus the first motif to which Grass devotes himself in various forms of expression and which he varies in drawings, graphics, sculptures, or poems.
This plaster chicken is one of his early works. The sculpture, like his sketches, shows that Grass composes the body of the chicken from individual stereometric forms and strongly abstracts the animal's contours. In this way, he works out its characteristic appearance very clearly, such as the small head that is held high, the conical body, the curved shape of the back and the rump with the tail feathers. Artistic influences from his teacher Karl Hartung, as well as from Ewald Mataré and Constantin Brâncuși, flow into Grass's sculptural analysis of objects and the reduction to their basic forms.
The small and compact sculpture is one of the few works by Grass which continues to be cast in bronze after his death with the permission of the foundation Günter und Ute Grass Stiftung: It is awarded every other year at the annual Lübeck Literary Meeting as the Günter Grass Prize »By Authors for Authors«.