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Pilot That Won't Be Dropped

David Low (1891-1963)



Pen ink and watercolour

12 ¾ x 17 inches

Manchester Guardian, Tuesday 9 June 1959

The Illustrators. the British Art of Illustration 1900-2018, November 2018-January 2019, No 108

The title to this cartoon, featuring the German Chancellor, Dr Konrad Adenauer, and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Ludwig Erhard, is a reference to Sir John Tenniel’s 1890 cartoon Dropping the Pilot, perhaps one of the most famous political cartoons of all time. Tenniel’s cartoon was an illustration of the resignation of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, stepping off a ship while the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, looked on. Sir David Low’s cartoon, almost 70 years later, also focuses on the resignation of a German Chancellor, though in this case it is Chancellor Adenauer’s stubborn refusal to do so. At the publication of this cartoon, Dr Konrad Adenauer was 83 years old and had been Chancellor of Germany for almost 10 years. In the build-up to the West German Presidential election in the summer of 1959, Adenauer announced his decision to resign as Chancellor and run for election as President. However, he quickly changed his mind, partly because he discovered that President was largely a ceremonial office with little real power, and partly because of the Christian Democratic Party’s choice of his Vice-Chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, as his successor rather than his own hand-picked favourite. Erhard had long been regarded as a highly-skilled economist and had served as Minister of Economics since 1949, before combining this role with that of Vice-Chancellor since 1957. The relationship between Adenauer and Erhard grew difficult when Erhard showed political ambitions of his own, as Adenauer had little regard for his Vice-Chancellor’s competence to govern and to survive in practical politics. Rather than hand over control of a German Republic he had helped rebuild since the end of the War, Adenauer would rather cling grimly on to the wheel, perhaps to the detriment of the country.

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