Monday, August 9, 2010

Self Serving Self Promotion With the Reward of Pretty Pictures and a Sad Tale of Genius

Hey, Cabinet readers - if you're on Twitter, please follow me! I can be found here.

And, as so often here, a propos of absolutely nothing, a stunning Kay Nielsen illustration. He was a stone cold genius and my favorite, favorite illustrator. In addition to his gorgeous book illustrations, he also designed much of the "Ave Maria" and "Night on Bald Mountain" sequences in Fantasia. Disney fired him in 1940, when Fantasia tanked.

He also did some legendary, classic illustrations for a 1914 edition of East of the Sun, West of the Moon - an edition of Nordic fairy tales, the titular one being the inspiration for Antarctica. I've been saying for years, now, that if I ever strike it rich, this is the one thing I will certainly buy.

I've always found his story to be thoroughly heartbreaking. His main crime, from what I can make out, was working too slowly and being a perfectionist. Sigh. I've always related as one could argue that those are my artistic crimes as well. The other major contribution to his downfall was simple obsolescence. His specialty was designing and illustrating opulent gift books which were pretty much completely out of fashion by the mid-1920s (side note: if you ever wondered why so many cartoons from the 1930s had such exquisitely painted watercolor backgrounds, this is why. Crowds of unemployed and very skilled illustrators willing to work cheap). Disney gave him a posthumous design credit on The Little Mermaid as he did the earliest artwork for the project around 1940. He died in poverty in 1957, living at the end mostly on handouts from admirers.

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