Toad with Nails

Günter Grass

Toad with Nails
Toad with Nails
Etching with Aquatint
7.7 x 11.6 in. / 19.5 x 29.5 cm


A fat toad squats on a sheet of paper in front of a background of mountains. Seven large nails are spread out in the foreground. In a soft play of lines, the humps and curves of the toad's body are reflected in the shape of the mountains. The toad's head marks the darkest spot, while its opulent body is empasized in the stark contrast with the bright white paper on which it sits.

Grass uses the elaborate printing technique of aquatint etching to make use of paint effects. The print, as well as many more toad illustrations, was created in connection with his work on Unkenrufe (1992). The title, translated as »The Call of the Toad«, also means "gloomy predictions" in German. In contrast to the narration, Grass is here primarily interested in the artistic quality of the toad painting, and not so much in its added symbolic value, although this is not an aspect to be ignored. The toad ultimately becomes one of Grass's animals »in his escutcheon«, just like the snail, the rat, and the flounder.

In his narration, Grass portrays the love between the German art historian Alexander Reschke and the Polish restorer Aleksandra Piatkowska. They decide to establish a German-Polish Cemetery Association, so that the displaced from both countries can repose in their native soil. However, there is no happy ending for the lovers. Criticism of environmental pollution and of the rapidly completed German reunification also blend in. The narrative emerged from the underlying pessimistic mood in the 1980s and in view of the finiteness of humanity by nuclear threat, poverty in the third world, ecological destruction, political crises, and other gloomy predictions, aka »Unkenrufe«.