'In 1961 and 1962 I'd done some etchings based on the Grimm story 'Rumpelstiltskin' [see lots 18-20]. I'd always enjoyed the fairytales very much and thought I'd like to illustrate them, make a book rather like the Cavafy book, taking some of the storiesThey're fascinating, the little stories, told in a very simple, direct, straightforward language and style; it was this simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience, from the magical to the moral. My choice of stories was occasionally influenced by how I might illustrate them. For example, 'Old Rinkrank' was included because the story begins with the sentence, 'A King built a glass mountain.' I loved the idea of finding how you draw a glass mountain; it was a little graphic problem. I included other stories simply because they were strange. The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear is such a strange Gothic story; I'd no idea how to illustrate it. I only knew I wanted to do it.' (David Hockney by David Hockney, Thames & Hudson, London, 1976, p. 195).
Hockney's interpretation of the fairytales is characteristically idiosyncratic and imaginative. In Rapunzel, the enchantress who forces a couple to give away their child is depicted as an old crone, because, as Hockney reasoned, she must have been ugly not to have had any children of her own. (David Hockney by David Hockney, Thames & Hudson, London, 1976, p. 196).
In addition to his own drawings and photographs, he also made use of numerous art historical sources. The figure of the enchantress, with the baby on her knee, is based on The Virgin and Child and the Three Magi by Hieronymous Bosch, while the trees in the background are from Leonardo's Annunciation. The princess in Pleading with the child is a figure from a Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcut, while the ghost in The boy who left home to learn fear references Magritte's 'stone age' paintings from the 1950s.
In his search for a publisher, Hockney turned to Paul Cornwall-Jones, with whom he had worked on many important early projects such as A Rake's Progress, A Hollywood Collection and Illustrations for fourteen poems from C. P. Cavafy. Their collaboration on Grimm's Fairytales, published under Cornwall-Jones' new imprint, Petersburg Press, was to be their most ambitious to date, resulting in what has become one of the artist's best loved series.
'In the canon of Hockney's work, there is no doubt that Six Fairy Tales is right up there with the Cavafy poems, not just because of the superb quality of the etchings, but equally because of the sheer inventiveness and wit of his imagery' (Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Century, London, p. 224).