I know little about Josef Hochman, other than he illustrated an edition of Treasure Island that was produced in Czechoslovakia and published as a beautiful hardback in this country by Paul Hamlyn in 1967. My father bought a copy and gave it to me in May 1971. His inscription reads:
About six or seven years too soon. I’m sure you will appreciate a marvellous story.
I was two at the time… but I did get around to reading the book when I was older. I’m not sure how deeply Stevenson’s tale would have influenced me had I read a version illustrated by a different artist, or containing no pictures at all. Doubtless it is an incredibly exciting story in itself, but Hochman’s eerie, grotesque paintings – imbued with a strange marine tinge, as if he had included seawater on his palette – contained a power all of their own and made a huge impact on me, even before I could read the accompanying words.
How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four walls of the house, and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares…
The internet provides a few pages that present more of Hochman’s Treasure Island illustrations but I’ve yet to unearth much in the way of biographical data. I found a site written in Czech that suggests he was involved in a book written by the writer and artist Josef Čapek (the man credited with inventing the word ‘robot’) published in 1946, a year after Čapek’s death. Another site lists Hochman’s work but makes no mention of Treasure Island, remarking that he was born in 1913 and died in 1999.
His illustrations are weighted with dread, and treated with bruise colours. Whoever decided Hochman’s work would fit well with Stevenson’s story made an excellent choice. There’s something of Expressionism in these paintings, and it also reminds me of the nightmarish vision of his fellow countryman (I say that, but I have no idea as to where Hochman was born) Jan Švankmajer, the animator, who, coincidentally, has been working recently on a project based on a play by Josef Čapek’s brother, Karel.
He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick, and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose; and he was hunched, as if with age or weakness, and wore a huge old tattered sea-cloak with a hood, that made him appear positively deformed. I never saw in my life a more dreadful looking figure.
I’d be interested in learning more about Josef Hochman, and would be grateful for any information about his life, or his other works. Do, please, get in touch if you can help.