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.
Wilhelm Busch’s illustrated story “Hans Huckebein, der Unglücksrabe” (Hans Huckebein, the Unlucky Raven) was first published in four parts in the illustrated newspaper Über Land und Meer (On Land and Sea) in October and November of 1867. Possibly, Busch had already thought about this humorous fable about a raven since 1866, but it was probably not until around 1870 that the decorative manuscript in a specially painted vellum binding was created for Johanna Kessler. The manuscript shows the images in the same layout as the print: as a free retranslation of the wood engravings into the medium of drawing. However, the fable is shortened by one image and two lines of text. Busch probably copied the verses onto paper after the lost text manuscript; which would also explain the deviations from the printed version.– Cf. the remarks by Hans Ries in: Wilhelm Busch. Die Bildergeschichten. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, Hannover 2002, vol. I, col. 1462–1501, esp. col. 1480–1481.