'Einquartierung auf dem Lande. 1798' (1801).

David Hess was a late 18th, early 19th-century Swiss caricaturist, painter, writer and politician. In 1796, he wrote and illustrated 'Hollandia Regenerata' (1796), a satirical pamphlet intended to criticize the newly found Batavian Republic in the Netherlands. The book is a thematically connected series of cartoony illustrations, with text captions underneath the images. It was widely reprinted and bootlegged, including in 1798 by James Gillray. Historically speaking, Hess is the oldest example of a prototypical Swiss comic artist.

Life and career
David Hess was born in 1770 in Zürich, as son of a Dutch officer stationed there. His mother was the daughter of a French mining engineer. During his youth, Hess was an apprentice of painter Heinrich Freudweiler. Between 1787 and 1796, he followed in his father's footsteps by serving as a member of the Swiss Guard in The Hague, the Netherlands. At the time, the Swiss guard were assigned to protect the Dutch head of state, the so-called "Stadhouder".

'Hollandia Regenerata', plate 17: 'Het Comité van Bondgenootschap' ('Committee of Alliance').

Hollandia Renegerata
In 1792, France invaded the Netherlands. Hess fought a few battles alongside the Dutch troops, but most of the time he remained on guard in The Hague. By 1795, France conquered the country, which became the Batavian Republic with a constitution modelled after the French one. Although the Batavian Republic was technically independent, they were a pure French puppet state. Like many members of the Swiss guard stationed in The Hague, Hess was eventually discharged and sent back to Switzerland. But before the official order went into effect in February 1796, he was still allowed to stay in the city. During this time, he grew highly critical of the new political system and the French influence in the Netherlands. He also felt mistreated after years of loyal service.

To ventilate his frustrations, Hess made 20 drawings in which he criticized the Batavian Republic. Purely meant for his own and his friends' entertainment, he loaned them to his friend Johann Friedrich Euler, a mathematician who had served as a tutor for the children of the "Stadhouder". At the time, he was recovering from an illness, and he felt Hess' drawings were genuinely funny. Euler showed them to his own circle of friends, after which the former Dutch regent Robert Bonte contacted the wealthy businessman Peter C. Labouchere and the British mecantile banker Henry Hope. Lachouchere and Hope financed a book publication, which was printed in 1796 in London by publisher William Humphrey under the title 'Hollandia Regenerata'.

Since it was intended for distribution in the Batavian Republic, 'Hollandia Regenerata' was written in Dutch. Not counting the first and last image, all illustrations satirize real-life committees of the Dutch government. It depicts the Batavian Republic as incompetent, hypocritical and overall dangerous. Some scenes feature slapstick situations, for instance the fourth plate, in which a cupboard falls over at the Committee of Finance. Other images give an ironic visualisation of the title, like the eighth plate 'Comité van Algemeen Waaksaamheid' ('Committee of General Vigilance'), where all members in charge of national security have fallen asleep. Or the 17th plate, 'Het Comité van Bondgenootschap' ('Committee of Alliance'), where the politicians quarrel and fight each other. Some illustrations ought to be understood as metaphors. The 18th plate, 'Eenige der Representanten van het Volk van Holland' ('Some of the Representatives of the People of Holland'), shows heads of the government within the twigs of a birch rod, implying they are a punishment to the people. The 19th plate, 'De Nationale Conventie in Barensnood van Eene Constitutie' ('The National Assembly in Labor with a Constitution'), depicts the National Assembly as a seven-headed woman about to give birth.

'Hollandia Regenerata', plate 18: 'Eenige der Representanten van het Volk van Holland' ('Some of the Representatives of the People of Holland').

To add an ironic context, Hess borrowed a Bible from a chaplain to cite biblical passages underneath certain images. As a result, it makes 'Hollandia Regenerata' comparable to a text comic, although it differs in the sense that there is no real story. The book is basically a series of thematically connected illustrations about the Dutch government. It closes with a final warning to all readers: an image of Father Time with French peace treaties on his table, while the sands in an hour glass have almost run out.

The publisher of 'Hollandia Regenerata', William Humphrey, was the brother of Hannah Humphrey, the owner of a print shop at 227 Strand in the British capital. There, she sold prints by the caricaturist James Gillray, with whom she also lived together. Through this connection, Scottish jurist and historian John Dalrymple translated 'Hollandia Regenerata' into English as 'Consequences of a Succesful French Invasion' (1798), with Gillray as the new illustrator. Gillray respected Hess' designs. He kept all poses and compositions the same, but worked out the drawings in a more professional style. His version is far more vivid, with a better eye for anatomy, texture, shading and backgrounds. It is unfortunate that Dalrymple underestimated the printing costs. As a result, the print run of 'Consequences of a Succesful French Invasion' (1798) didn't earn its money back.

In 1799, six illustrations from the same book were reprinted in Germany by Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard in his 'Revolution Almanac of 1799'. That same year, Giovanni Zatta bootlegged it as 'La Rigenerazione dell'Olanda' (1799). In short, 'Hollandia Regenerata' circulated all over Europe in one form or the other, in the hope of influencing readers to rise up against the French invasions. Considering that France gradually conquered most of Europe, especially when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power, the book failed in this goal. Nevertheless, in 1848, when Europe was swept up by socialist revolutions, another reprint was published in the Netherlands by Carel Last. It appeared under the title 'De Gouden Eeuw Herboren in de Fransche Republiek van 1848' ("The Golden Age Reborn in the French Republic of 1848"), although this edition used only six plates of the Hess original.

Cartoon from around 1815, attributed to David Hess.

Final years and death
After being dismissed as a member of the Swiss Guard in The Hague, Hess returned to Zürich. A year later, in 1797, he married a woman named Anna Hirzel, who bore him two children. Unfortunately she died in 1802, after the birth of their second child. Hess remarried in 1805 with Salome Vischer. When France invaded Switzerland and established a Helvetic Republic in 1798, Hess' worst fears had come true. When subsequently, Napoleon Bonaparte annexed most of Europe into one empire, it turned into a nightmare. Hess found relief in creating caricatures and cartoons criticizing the Corsican general as well as the new government in his home city. Under the pseudonym David Hildebrant, he published a cartoon book under the title 'Der Scharringgelhof oder Regeln der guten Lebensart beym Abschiednehmen von der Stubenthüre bis zur Hausthüre und auf der Gasse' ("The Scharringgelhof or Rules of the Good Way of Life when Saying Goodbye from the Room's door to the Front Door and on the Street", 1801). Another caricature book, 'Politische Schaukel' ("Political Swing", 1802), was signed with "Gillray Junior".

Still, Hess felt he could do more. In 1803, he went into politics and became a member of the Cantonal Parliament. Hess lived long enough to see Napoleon defeated in 1815 and his country move to a different, more independent political system. In 1820, he published a biography about the Swiss politician Salomon Landolt. By 1830, Hess left politics again. In his final decades, the man was active as a painter, caricaturist and poet. Not all of his writings and poetry were published, but he was nevertheless a respected member of the city's cultural circle. In 1843 David Hess passed away at age 72 in Zürich's Unterstrass quarter.

Self-portrait, early 1800s.


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