Brain Pickings

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations

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Haunting whimsy from the Golden Age of illustration.

As a lover of illustrated fairy tales and having just returned from Sweden, I was delighted to discover, thanks to the relentlessly wonderful 50 Watts, East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (public library; public domain) — a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales, illustrated by Danish artist Kay Rasmus Nielsen (1886-1957), whose work you might recall from the all-time greatest illustrations of Brothers Grimm and the fantastic visual history of Arabian Nights. Originally published in 1914, this magnificent tome of 15 stories was recently reissued by Calla Editions, the same Dover imprint that revived Harry Clarke’s magnificent illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe, and features 25 color illustrations, along with a slew of black-and-white ones, in Nielsen’s singular style of haunting whimsy.

'And this time she whisked off the wig; and there lay the lad, so lovely, and white and red, just as the Princess had seen him in the morning sun.'

'She could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when—Pop! out flew the Moon.'

'At Rest in the Dark Wood'

'The Troll was quite willing, and before long he fell asleep and began snoring.'

'As Far Away from the Castle'

'Tell me the Way, she said, And I'll Search You Out'

'Just as they bent down to take the rose a big dense snow-drift came and carried them away.'

'He Saw Her Reflection in the Water'

'She Held Tight to the White Bear'

'Then He Took Her Home'

'The Wolf Was Waiting for Him'

'I am the Virgin Mary'

'The Queen Did Not Know Him'

'The North Wind Went Over the Sea'

'The Man Gave Him a Pair of Snowshoes'

'The Lad in the Bear's Skin, and the King of Arabia’s daughter.'

'She saw the Lindworm for the first time as he came in and stood by her side.'

For the ultimate illustrated fairy tale treat, complement East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North with Taschen’s recent The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, one of the 11 best children’s and picture books of 2011.

50 Watts

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