Etching Plate: The Optimists versus the Pessimists

Chicago artist Curt Frankenstein used this copper plate to print a whimsical etching.

Curt Frankenstein

  • Chicago, Illinois, United States ca. 1970-2000

Painter and printmaker Curt Frankenstein was born to a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother in Hanover, Germany. On Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, his father was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was released several months later on the condition that he leave the country immediately. He boarded a freight ship packed with refugees and headed for Shanghai, one of the only places that had not closed its doors to Jewish immigration. Shortly after, Curt, then age 17, joined his father in China.

In Shanghai the German-Jewish refugees struggled for subsistence. Frankenstein, who had excelled at drawing since childhood, was apprenticed to a refugee artist who painted European-style paintings, considered exotic by the Chinese, and peddled them door-to-door. After the war, Frankenstein secured a Hillel scholarship to study art in Chicago. His immigration was sponsored by an American Navy medic he met while selling harbor scenes to U.S. sailors as souvenirs. Once here, he settled in Hyde Park.

Frankenstein discovered the work of the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was influenced by Magritte’s use of familiar objects in surprising ways, exploiting the tension between fantasy and reality through visual riddles.

For fifty years, Frankenstein, who first sold his work at the 57th Street Art Fair in Hyde Park in 1954, was a regular participant in art fairs throughout the Midwest. These original printing plates were used to make some of Frankenstein’s most popular prints and were acquired directly from the late artist’s studio-home in Wilmette by gift of his widow, Renate Frankenstein. The plates offer a humorous and impressively farsighted critique of our healthcare and financial systems, and even of the art world.Six anthropomorphic frogs are shown holding umbrellas. Three are dressed in business attire and look glum; the other three are dressed for recreational activities (golf, entomology, snorkeling) and look eager.

Name: Etching Plate: The Optimists versus the Pessimists
Artist: Curt Frankenstein
Origin: Chicago, Illinois, United States, ca. 1970-2000
Medium: Copper
Dimensions: 11 1/4 in.x 23 5/8 in.
Credit: Gift of Renate Frankenstein
Catalog Number: 2012.33