comic by Albert Hahn Sr.
Comic strip by Albert Hahn about SDAP party leader Troelstra's efforts to get the House of Representatives to vote in favor of his motion for universal suffrage (De Notenkraker, 1907). Presented as the dog is liberal politician Hendrik Goeman Borgesius.

Albert Hahn (also referred to as Albert Hahn Sr.) was one of the foremost Dutch political cartoonists of the early 20th century, and a strong advocate of the socialist cause. Humor wasn't the key element of his cartoons, propaganda for the workers' movement was. Most of Hahn's drawings appeared in party magazines like the Sunday supplement of newspaper Het Volk and the political-satirical weekly De Notenkraker, but he also produced a lot of artwork for pamphlets, banners, flags and other promotional manifestations. Especially his drawing for the 1903 railway strikes and his depiction of Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper as "Abraham the Great" still stand as testimonials of a revolutionary time period. These cartoons are still used in school books and other historical reference books. In a time when photography was not the main source for illustrations, the public's mind was mostly influenced by Hahn and the caricaturists from other sides of the socio-political spectrum, such as Johan Braakensiek, Louis Raemaekers and Petrus van Geldrop.

Early life in Groningen
Albert Pieter Hahn was born in 1877 in Groningen, a city in the north-east of the Netherlands. His father was a house and decoration painter, who also ran a shop in painting supplies. Sales went bad, and the Hahn family eventually ended up in a worker's quarter. There the young Albert was first confronted with poverty. As a child he also caught tuberculosis in one of his dorsal vertebras. The illness would return on many occasions in his later life, often leaving him unable to work for months on end. It also prevented him from stepping in his father's footsteps, as the work was too physically demanding. Instead, he spent irregular time periods at the local Minerva Art Academy between 1890 and 1896, where he learned model drawing, geometric drawing, painting and the laws of perspective. The young artist was also introduced to several Dutch painters. He was shocked by the expressionist work of Vincent van Gogh, but at the same time captivated by its human touch. After his graduation, Hahn enrolled at the Rijksschool voor Kunstnijverheid (State school for Applied Arts) in Amsterdam.

'Krotten en sloppen' (1901).

The move from Groningen to Amsterdam immediately introduced Hahn into the world of blossoming industrialization and heavy social and political debate. He shared a studio with three of his fellow students in the workers' quarter De Pijp, and became a member of the social-democratic party SDAP, while working as an apprentice typographer. Not satisfied with his education, Hahn also took evening courses in model drawing at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. During this period, he became convinced of the social responsibilities of art. Graduating in 1900, he had his first job as a night school drawing teacher. During daytime, he tried finding commercial assignments. These included some designs for book covers, wallpapers and dress materials, which were mostly influended by Jugendstil and Art Nouveau. He entered the public eye with his drawings for the brochure 'Krotten en sloppen' (1901), a study by socialist L.M. Hermans about the miserable conditions of the Amsterdam slums. It showed Hahn as an "artist-reporter", reminiscent of Gustave Doré in 'London: A Pilgrimage' (1872) and George Barnard in 'How The Poor Live' (1883).

In 1907 Hahn and Hermans worked together again on a comic strip about Dutch politics in children's tale format, published in De Notenkraker.

Zondagsblad/De Notenkraker
His work for 'Krotten en sloppen' gave him an advantage when he took part in a contest held by the SDAP party newspaper Het Volk in June 1902. The paper was searching for a caricaturist/cartoonist for its upcoming Sunday supplement, simply called "Zondagsblad". The main goal was to spread the social-democratic principles through satire and caricature. The first issue appeared on 6 July 1902, with Hahn's winning drawing on the front. Hahn became the supplement's main graphic artist, who not only provided the front cover cartoon but also illustrations, headers and vignettes. Between 1903 and 1905, he made the recurring picture story feature 'Nieuwe Nederlandsche Kinderprenten' ("New Dutch Children's Pictures"), a proto-comic in the tradition of the 19th century "catchpenny prints", in which Hahn and writer Hermans gave their cynical view on national politics. In later years, H.E. Greve and Tjeerd Bottema were also regular contributors. Initially, Hahn chose his subjects through suggestions of his editors - all party prominents - but he quickly gained autonomy. In January 1907 the Sunday supplement became an independent publication under the title De Notenkraker. Hahn remained on board as main caricaturist, despite an increasing amount of health issues in his later years.

Cover for De Ware Jacob of 16 January 1904 with the famous "Abraham the Great" drawing, and for the first issue of De Notenkraker (5 January 1907).

As his prominence rose, so did the interest in his work. Hahn was asked to contribute to other publications, such as the satirical De Ware Jacob (1903-1905) and the news magazine De Hollandsche Revue (1905). The German magazine Der Wahre Jakob also published a couple of his drawings. He however turned down requests by the newspapers De Telegraaf and Het Vaderland, because their content was too far removed from his ideals, or too similar to his homebase Het Volk, respectively.

Technique and themes
Albert Hahn used several techniques. Some were detailed pen-and-ink drawings with clever use of cross-hatching, others were made with crayons and charcoal. His best-remembered works, however, consisted of thick outlines and stylized shapes in black-and-white. Especially in De Notenkraker, Hahn  used the sequential comics format to bring his message. His main sources of inspiration were the drawings of foreign cartoonists which made their way to the Netherlands, like the Brit Walter Crane and the Frenchman Steinlen.

"Onder zwart regime" (1904).

The targets in Albert Hahn's drawings were the five major threats of the working class, labelled by the Dutch socialists as "The 5 K's" ("Kerk, Koning, Kapitaal, Kazerne, Kroeg"): church, monarchy, capitalism, militarism and drinking bars. Until the outbreak of World War I, most of his magazine work was politically oriented. While contemporaries such as Braakensiek merely commented on the news of the day, the main focus of Hahn's work was propaganda, albeit triggered by current affairs. Many elements in his drawings had a symbolic meaning. Safes and money bags stood for capitalism, trains for progress and social reformations, while factories with their smoking chimneys were either presented as houses of power and opportunities, or as a symbol for wage slavery. People were his most powerful depictions. Like in most socialist cartoons, the worker was presented as a muscular fellow with a proud look and a firm chin. In other drawings he is the surpressed victim of the greedy and slave-driving fat capitalist, with his puffy face and top hat.

1903 Railway strike
The powerful and heroic worker can be seen in what is maybe Hahn's most famous cartoon. In January 1903 the Amsterdam harbour and railway workers went on strike to fight for their right to organize themselves in unions. On 8 February 1903 the revolutionary event was illustrated by Hann on the cover of the Zondagsblad. It showed a large and powerful figure who halts a train by merely raising his hand, while two small capitalists cling to his legs, desperately begging him to stop. The caption reads: "Gansch het raderwerk staat stil, als uw machtige arm het wil" ("All the machinery stands still, if it be your mighty arm's will"). The drawing has become an icon for this time period, and is featured prominently in school books to this day. The aftermath of the strike provided Hahn with much material to work with as well. Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper saw the strike as an anarchist act and implemented new laws which made strikes illegal and maintained the order among railway and government personel. The socialists called them "worgwetten" ("strangling laws"), meant to further oppress workers. Hahn made several drawings about these laws, but the one in which Kuyper is actually strangling a chained worker (8 March 1903) stands out. The drawing circulated widely as a loose print. The government was not amused, and retailers who distributed or displayed the print were fined. Hahn himself stayed out of harm's way.

Drawings of Abraham Kuyper from 10 April 1904 and 30 September 1911.

Abraham Kuyper
Even though he had drawn the politician before the 1903 strikes, Abraham Kuyper became Hahn's main target from then on. Hahn portrayed the man about 450 times, and never in a flattering way. Kuyper was a Dutch theologist, preacher and statesman who founded the anti-revolutionary party ARP in 1879, and served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905. Even though Kuyper's party represented the "common people" ("kleine luyden"), the conservative politician was highly critical of the socialist movement. One of Hahn's best-known depictions was 'Abraham de Geweldige' ("Abraham the Great"): a large close-up of the pig-faced politician with baggy cheeks, surly look and a pair of glasses resting on his plump nose. It appeared on the cover of De Ware Jacob on 16 January 1904. Although Kuyper's political role had lost most of its importance after 1905, Hahn continued to draw the man, even when there was no immediate cause. Hahn's Kuyper just simply browsed through the pages of De Notenkraker and sobbed why he wasn't mentioned anymore? More sensational news items could also trigger Hahn. When the corpulent statesman was allegedly spotted doing his exercises naked behind a Brussels hotelroom window in September 1911, Hahn immediately drew two biting cartoons. One showed the politician as the famous local sculpture "Manneken Pis", the other while he is arrested, holding a book in front of his private parts.

Part of a comic strip spoofing the aspirations of liberal politician Dirk de Klerk. In the end it turns out that his growing skull contains nothing but air, with only a tiny remnant of what should have been an interpellation (De Notenkraker, 2 June 1907).

Other politicians
In a time were newspapers rather used illustrations instead of photography, and film technology was still in its infancy, Hahn's portrayals became the general public's main visual impression of Kuyper. It must be said that Hahn's Kuyper wasn't even always that accurate. He made his drawings by heart, and over the years, his depictions in thick broad strokes deviated more and more from the original. The Abraham Kuyper drawn by Albert Hahn became the archetype of the capitalist politician, who has no eye for the needs of the poor. Of course Hahn also portrayed other political figures, mostly party leaders. Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, the leader of the anarchists, for instance. Domela Nieuwenhuis blamed Troelstra and his social-democrats for the failure of the 1903 strike, and accused them of treason. It was the source of several Hahn drawings, most notably the one in which he drew the social-anarchist leader as a vulture feasting on the victims of the strike. Hahn also treated the dispute in comics format in the Zondagsblad on 13 September 1903, in which he drew the angry, lying anarchists with long Pinocchio-like noses. Like Kuyper, the elderly Domela Nieuwenhuis with his large grey beard remained in Hahn's repertoire as well. Other politicians drawn by Hahn on a regular base were Kuyper's fellow party members Theo Heemskerk and Syb Talma, as well as the Christian leading man Alexander Frederik de Savornin Lohman.

Pamphlet against bars (1903) and an election poster for the SDAP (1918).

Commercial assignments
His impressive production for the SDAP publications - about 3600 drawings in the period 1902-1918 - as well as his dedication to the party ideals, made Hahn a well-known figure in social-democratic circles. He befriended such prominents as party leader Pieter Jelles Troelstra, politician A.B. Kleerekoper, graphic artist Richard Roland Holst and journalist Eduard Polak. This led to many additional assignments, including designs for banners, flags, advertisements, tableaux vivants and other pieces of propaganda. Since the socialists were keen on organizing demonstrations and manifestations, there was always enough work to do. An interesting production was a puppet play designed by Hahn, which of course also featured Abraham Kuyper. Hahn was one of the pioneers in making political posters; not a common practice in his home country before universal suffrage was instated (1915). Most of his posters were therefore promoting the right to vote, but he also made many pamphlets against alcohol. Other commissions were for cultural events like theater plays and exhibitions, or for commercial clients such as the biscuit rusk factory Verkade, tea, coffee and cocoa brand De Archipel, insurance company Providentia or light bulb factory Philips.

'At the Belgian border' (1915).

World War I
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the everyday politics mostly disappear from Albert Hahn's work. The ideal of international socialism and solidarity was shattered to pieces. Most of Hahn's cartoons from August 1914 until his death in 1918 deal with the atrocities of war. Even though the Netherlands took no part in the war effort, the country was suddenly invaded by Belgian fugitives. The electrical wire known as the Wire of Death created by the German military to control the Dutch–Belgian frontier caused many victims along the border. One of Hahn's best-known drawings from this period shows a body trapped in the wire. Another powerful piece deals with the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania in 1915. Corpses float, while a woman tries to keep her baby above the water. Like his mother country, Hahn took no side in the conflict, but instead used the capitalist, the soldier and death as main archetypes in what can be considered some of his most monumental and timeless drawings.

Hahn's drawing about the sinking of the Lusitania (1915).

With his health problems in mind, the sheer quantity of Albert Hahn's work is impressive. By 1904 he already had enough work to quit his teaching job. He continued to give Sunday art classes from his home in the Watergraafsmeer, where he resided from 1907 onwards. Elie Smalhout was Albert Hahn's assistant from 1903 to 1906. He did all sorts of chores in the atelier, and presumably also inked some of his master's cartoons. Later students were Sjoerd Kuperus, Thomas Postuma, Otto Hanraath, Klaas de Vries and Chris van Geel. Hahn's stepson Albert Hahn Jr. (real name Albert Pieter Dijkman) worked with him in the final years of his life.

Death and aftermath
Albert Hahn didn't live to see the end of World War I. He passed away on 3 August 1918, heavily weakened by the war-times food shortage and rationing. Newspapers from each social orientation published articles about his death, most of them speaking positively about his contributions to the Dutch arts. The SDAP party continued to hold him in high esteem after his death, and party members even founded a commity to finance a monument for his grave. His work was been part of a great many exhibitions, most notably one about socialist art in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1930. Albert Hahn Jr. compiled a selection of his stepfather's drawings under the title 'Prenten' (1928).

Albert Hahn's death at the age of 41 left a void in De Notenkraker. His front page spot was taken over by Leendert Jordaan, who had been a contributor since 1909. Albert Hahn Jr. also became a prominent cartoonist for the magazine, joined later on by George van Raemdonck, Tjerk Bottema and Albert Funke Küpper. The magazine managed to survive until 1936, and was then cancelled.

Albert Hahn remains one of the founding fathers of the Dutch political cartoon. Generations of cartoonists are indebted to his legacy, either directly or indirectly. Thousands of his drawings are in the collection of the Dutch Press Museum and accessible through the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

Books and documenaries about Albert Hahn
For those interested in the man's life and work, Marien van der Heijden's book 'Albert Hahn' (Thomas Rap, 1993) is a must-read. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the artist's death, Pim Zwier made the documentary 'De Getekende Hahn, een fascinerend kunstenaarsportret' (2018), which is presented as a monologue distilled from a rare interview with the man, and illustrated by his classic works of art and historical photographs.

Selfportrait by Albert Hahn
Self-portrait (1916).

More about De Notenkraker in Lambiek's Nederlandse Stripgeschiedenis
(in Dutch)

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