L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A fragile and ferocious telling - book illustrations by Kay Nielsen

Illustration for East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Kay Rasmus Nielsen (12 March 1886, Copenhagen – 21 June 1957, Los Angeles), Danish artist who, along with Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, was among the most popular book illustrators of the early 20th century, the "golden age of illustration".

Illustration for In Powder and Crinoline.

Born into an artistic family - both of his parents were very successful actors - he studied art in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi from 1904 to 1911, and then lived in England from 1911 to 1916. He received his first English commission from Hodder and Stoughton to illustrate a collection of fairy tales in 1913. Printing technology had then developed to the point that full color drawings and paintings could be reproduced with reasonable fidelity, and beautifully produced gift books were extremely popular. For the next two decades, only interrupted by the First World War, he produced illustrations for several prominent story collections, In Powder and Crinoline and East of the Sun and West of the Moon probably being the best known. Towards the end of the war, he traveled to New York, where his work was exhibited, and then returned to Denmark, where he painted stage scenery for the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen. After that he resumed his work for illustrated books.

Illustration for East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

By the end of the Thirties, with the slowing of his illustration work, he moved to California, looking to find employment with the Hollywood studios. He was hired by Walt Disney Studios, where he contributed to several sequences of Fantasia. He was highly regarded at the studio but, after four years there, he was let go in 1941. He briefly returned to Denmark, desperate for employment, but found no demand for his work there either. Returning to California, his final years were spent in poverty. His last works were murals for schools and churches in Los Angeles. He developed respiratory problems that would plague him until his death at the age of seventy-one; his funeral service was held under a mural he had painted in the Wong Chapel of the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. His wife of thirty-one years, Ulla, died the following year. Before her death, she had entrusted her husband's remaining works to a prominent colleague, who in turn tried to place them with museums. But none - American or Danish - would accept them.

Illustrations for In Powder and Crinoline, 1913:

Illustrations for East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914: