Thursday, January 1, 2015

Artist Spotlight: Kay Nielsen

'East of the Sun and West of the Moon'

 I've always loved fairy tales and fairy tale art, and over the years I've discovered a multitude of fantastic fairy tale illustrators. Their work has influenced my own imagination and stories, probably more than I know. Going into the new year, I’ll be putting together a series of posts showcasing some of my favorite artists and their work. I don’t have a degree in either art or folklore (point of fact, I don’t have a degree in ANYTHING yet), and these posts are more pretty picture appreciation than anything else. Hopefully, though, they’ll be inspiring…and a lot of fun. First up is one of my absolute favorite illustrators, ever--Kay Nielsen. 

   A little bit of background: Kay Nielsen (1886-1957) was born into a family of actors in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the ‘Golden Age’ of fairy tale illustration, he illustrated stories from the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault, among others. He also provided concept art for Walt Disney’s Fantasia and an early version of The Little Mermaid

I first came across his work in an edition of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales illustrated by multiple artists. Lately I’ve been unearthing even more, thanks to the wonders of Pinterest. Kay Nielsen’s illustrations have stuck with me for a couple of reasons, number one being that there's such a wonderful strangeness to them. Looking at them feels like looking into a dollhouse or a snow globe--you can’t help but study every detail. Here are some of my favorites.
'The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep'

concept art for the 'Night on Bald Mountain' sequence in Fantasia

'The Steadfast Tin Soldier'

'Brother and Sister'
'The Twelve Dancing Princesses'

 From a never-published edition of 'The Arabian Nights'. The pictures didn't come to light until years after his death

 Gorgeous, right? I had a ball writing this post, and I’d love to know about your favorite artists. Do you have any recommendations for another spotlight? Let me know in the comments!


  1. THESE ARE AMAZING. I love art and I wish I could do more of it...but it's nice just to look at other people's amazing talent. And fairy tales are just the BEST. This is an awesome feature for sure!
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    1. I have zero artistic talent myself, but I can spend hours looking at other people's work. And fairy tales ARE the best :) Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Ooh, I can see why you love Kay Nielsen's work--it's so elegant yet in some ways strange, but that's a combination I feel works well in art. Especially when, like this, it's fairy tale art! I think my favorite piece featured here is "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" (especially for the moon peeking in and the leaves silhouetted against its light), but oh my, the TREES in "The Twelve Dancing Princesses"...!

    Great pick for an art feature--thank you for sharing one of your favorite artists with us!

    1. "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" is one of my favorites, too. I especially love the details of the shepherdess' dress, and the fact that she manages to look like both a porcelain doll and a real person (she actually is a doll, if I remember the story correctly). I also adore each of the twelve dancing princesses's dresses--the best parts of these pictures really are the details.