I wonder if you have ever heard the
anecdote about the artist of Dusseldorf and the jealous
courtiers. This is it. It seems there was
once a very famous artist who lived in the little town
of Dusseldorf. He did such fine work that the
Elector, Prince Johann Wilhelm, ordered a portrait
statue of himself, on horseback, to be done in bronze.
The artist was overjoyed at the commission, and worked
early and late at the statue.
At last the work was done, and the
artist had the great statue set up in the public square
of Dusseldorf, ready for the opening view. The
Elector came on the appointed day, and with him came
his favorite courtiers from the castle. Then
the statue was unveiled. It was very beautiful,
so beautiful that the prince exclaimed in surprise.
He could not look enough, and presently he turned
to the artist and shook hands with him, like an old
friend. “Herr Grupello,” he said,
“you are a great artist, and this statue will
make your fame even greater than it is; the portrait
of me is perfect!”
When the courtiers heard this, and
saw the friendly hand-grasp, their jealousy of the
artist was beyond bounds. Their one thought was,
how could they safely do something to humiliate him.
They dared not pick flaws in the portrait statue,
for the prince had declared it perfect. But at
last one of them said, with an air of great frankness,
“Indeed, Herr Grupello, the portrait of his
Royal Highness is perfect; but permit me to say that
the statue of the horse is not quite so successful:
the head is too large; it is out of proportion.”
“No,” said another, “the
horse is really not so successful; the turn of the
neck, there, is awkward.”
“If you would change the right
hind-foot, Herr Grupello,” said a third, “it
would be an improvement.”
Still another found fault with the horse’s tail.
The artist listened, quietly.
When they had all finished, he turned to the prince
and said, “Your courtiers, Prince, find a good
many flaws in the statue of the horse; will you permit
me to keep it a few days more, to do what I can with
The Elector assented, and the artist
ordered a temporary screen built around the statue,
so that his assistants could work undisturbed.
For several days the sound of hammering came steadily
from behind the enclosure. The courtiers, who
took care to pass that way, often, were delighted.
Each one said to himself, “I must have been
right, really; the artist himself sees that something
was wrong; now I shall have credit for saving the
prince’s portrait by my artistic taste!”
Once more the artist summoned the
prince and his courtiers, and once more the statue
was unveiled. Again the Elector exclaimed at
its beauty, and then he turned to his courtiers, one
after another, to see what they had to say.
“Perfect!” said the first.
“Now that the horse’s head is in proportion,
there is not a flaw.”
“The change in the neck was
just what was needed,” said the second; “it
is very graceful now.”
“The rear right foot is as it
should be, now,” said a third, “and it
adds so much to the beauty of the whole!”
The fourth said that he considered
the tail greatly improved.
“My courtiers are much pleased
now,” said the prince to Herr Grupello; “they
think the statue much improved by the changes you have
Herr Grupello smiled a little.
“I am glad they are pleased,” he said,
“but the fact is, I have changed nothing!”
“What do you mean?” said
the prince in surprise. “Have we not heard
the sound of hammering every day? What were you
hammering at then?”
“I was hammering at the reputation
of your courtiers, who found fault simply because
they were jealous,” said the artist. “And
I rather think that their reputation is pretty well
hammered to pieces!”
It was, indeed. The Elector
laughed heartily, but the courtiers slunk away, one
after another, without a word.