Kay Nielsen – Illustrator

(via artpassions)

Kay Nielsen (whose first name is pronounced “kigh”), (1886-1957) was a Danish illustrator  who was popular in the early 20th century, the “golden age of illustration” which lasted from when Daniel Vierge and other pioneers developed printing technology to the point that drawings and paintings could be reproduced with reasonable facility. He joined the ranks of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac in enjoying the success of the gift books of the early 20th century. This fad lasted until roughly the end of World War II when economic changes made it more difficult to make a profit from elaborately illustrated books.

Born in Copenhagen into an artistic family, his father was director of the Royal Danish Theatre. He studied art in Paris from 1904 to 1911, and then lived in England from about 1911 to 1916. He received his first English commission from Hodder and Stoughton to illustrate a collection of fairytales, providing 24 colour plates and more than 15 monotone illustrations – In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1913. In the same year, Nielsen was also commissioned by The Illustrated London News to produce a set of four illustrations to accompany the tales of Charles Perrault – with the images for ‘Le Belle au Bois Dormant’ (‘Sleeping Beauty’), ‘Le Chat Botté’ (‘Puss in Boots’), ‘Cendrillon’ (‘Cinderella’) and ‘La Barbe Bleue’ (‘Bluebeard’) being published in the 1913 Christmas Edition. Source.

6 thoughts on “Kay Nielsen – Illustrator

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  1. I’ve seen some of these illustrations. I am something of an obsessive about Fairy Tales and I have some compilations, including some stunningly-beautiful annotated editions compiled by Maria Tatar, which include some of Nielsen’s pictures.

    It’s interesting — I never noticed before but some of them remind me *ever* so slightly of Erté. And there are some other artists I know I’m reminded of as well, though I can’t put my finger on it: not Doré; **possibly** Aubrey Beardsley — both of whom also did a lot of Fairy Tale illustrations.

  2. KS – thanks!

    Justin – I like all those old fairy tales too. Not sure I recall who those people are offhand, but am sure if I saw their art I would.

  3. Gustave Doré was a 19th century illustrator. He did engravings — most famously of Paradise Lost, Perrault’s Fairy Tales, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Idylls of the King, Orlando Furioso, Dante’s Commedia Divina, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. You would recognize his engravings and in fact you reproduced one in your post that referenced the Gargantua and Pantagruel.

    Aubrey Beardsley was a 19th-century illustrator who did very sexually-explicit illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé and Lysistrata (in the latter, the Athenian men are seen with gigantically engorged genitals that they have to carry about on wheelbarrows). It’s amazing he got away with the stuff he did and didn’t get thrown in prison.

    Erté was a Russian/French fashion/jewelry designer and artist who amongst other things did lithographs that were *very* popular in the 1980s. He had a very distinctive, retro, 1920s-style type of art. I remembered him being presumed to be gay, actually very flamingly so, though the wiki article on him and his NYT obit say nothing about that.

  4. Thank you SO much for showing these off; especially so large. It’s very hard to find a decent reproduction of his work.

    I recently ordered the reissue of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which he illustrated, but was disappointed at the fuzziness of the reproductions, since none of the illustrations today are done in separate, placed-in litho plate printing. Just not the same.

    I would love to know if anyone knows where his originals are housed; I want to stand in front of the real thing some day.

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