To this day, Wilhelm Busch is famous for his amusing if not ironic picture stories, above all for “Max and Moritz”, the two rascals who take pleasure in their well-meaning misdeeds before they themselves receive their bitterly wicked punishment and meet their end. That Busch was a true double talent in the field of art and poetry is impressively demonstrated by these picture stories, yet they also prove him to be a fine observer of basic human nature.
In profound affection he dedicated a series of manuscripts to his Frankfurt patroness Johanna Kessler (1831–1915), with whom he was in close contact between 1868 and 1877. These manuscripts were either produced in preparation for the picture stories or he created them himself in laborious service to her. They then came to the Städel Museum in 1930/31, giving an insight into his creative process. Busch usually began by drawing a sequence of pictures with a free, sure hand on large sheets of paper. He then cut them out and rearranged them, as in the case of the series of pictures for “Jobsiade” (1871, inv. no. 15325–15357, Städel Museum), and then sent them to his publisher. Here, the rhymed text came later, but the verses were also usually created only in a second step. In contrast, the illuminated manuscripts of “Pater Filucius” (1872, inv. no. 15518–15559, Städel Museum), “Dideldum!” (1873, inv. no. 15359–15416) and “Abenteuer eines Junggesellen” (1875, inv. no. 15429–15517) already show verses and pictures. In their arrangement, they also anticipate the later layout. For the printing, the pictures had to be reproduced last as wood engravings. For this, Busch copied the image templates directly onto the printing block, usually in pencil, whereby he had to mirror the picture for it to appear correctly on the printed page. The engraving was then done by a professional xylographer. The illuminated manuscripts of “Hans Huckebein” (c. 1870, Inv.-Nos. 15560–15572, Städel Museum) and of “Der heilige Antonius von Padua” (1871, Inv.-No. 15358, Städel Museum) were created after the prints as a favour to his patroness Johanna Kessler. Their design is based on medieval illuminated manuscripts.
“Abenteuer eines Junggesellen” (Adventures of a bachelor), first published by Bassermann in Heidelberg in November 1875, is one of Wilhelm Busch’s greatest successes. With a humorous twinkle in his eye, Busch, in thirteen episodes, tells of the bachelor Tobias Knopp’s travel adventures through the country in search of a bride. In preparation for its publication, Busch also montaged the preparatory drawings here, which originally filled a larger sheet of paper and were themselves inscribed with written verses, onto the sheets already provided with the text. Thus, the ‘layout’ of the later printed book is already created. manuscripts, Busch wrote down the verses here in his ‘normal’ handwriting, except for the initials. The binding, which probably Johanna Kessler commissioned a bookbinder with, was likely titled by Busch at a later date. – Cf. the remarks by Hans Ries in: Wilhelm Busch. Die Bildergeschichten. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, Hannover 2002, vol. II, col. 1530–1615, esp. col. 1593–1597.