Old Man on a Park Bench

Günter Grass

Old Man on a Park Bench
Old Man on a Park Bench
Pen Drawing
16.9 x 11 in. / 43 x 28 cm


Günter Grass used swift, energetic strokes to capture the old man's distinctive features, into which the hardships of a life full of privation had inscribed themselves. In the summer of 1948, the young would-be artist had previously coaxed the man with a few cigarettes into being his model, as Grass relates in his book of memories Peeling the Onion (2006):

„The old men would sit on the benches of Caritas House in half-profile, heeding my order to keep their eyes focused on an object. I kept them for one or two hours, during which many of them had asthma attacks. Their whistling breath. Sometimes their babble was threaded with World War I, Verdun, the inflation. I rewarded them with cigarettes, my personal currency, two or three of them, which they would smoke right after the sitting – or after a lengthy coughing fit – down to the last draw.”

As required for his future admission to study sculpture at the Arts Academy of Düsseldorf, Grass is at that time serving an internship at a stonemasonry workshop. He includes some of these drawings of the residents of the senior citizens' home in his application portfolio. Besides the drawing pen, he also uses charcoal and red chalk. The characterful portraits of the old men are evidence of Günter Grass's ability to accurately perceive nature and to master different art techniques. Both are skills expected from students aspiring to a classical education at the academy shortly after World War II.