Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Sunday, October 1, 2006

Kay Nielsen

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:35 am

Kay NielsenDanish artist Kay (pronounced “Kigh”) Nielsen was one of the great illustrators of the period from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries that is usually referred to as the “Golden Age of Illustration”.

Nielsen is often mentioned in the same sentence with two other amazing illustrators, who were at the top of an impressive list of amazing illustrators from that period, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac.

Like Rackham and Dulac, Nielsen was very influenced by Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau, the Pre-Raphaelite painters and romantic art. The terrific Swedish illustrator John Bauer was also undoubtedly influential on all three as well.

More than the others, however, Nielsen moved into the realm where representational imagery blended with design and the division of parts of the image into patterns and decorative elements. In this he took obvious inspiration from Aubrey Beardsley and Japanese woodblock prints, which were popular in Europe in Victorian times.

Nielsen, in turn, was influential on other artists at the time, including Rackham and Dulac and later illustrators such as Dorothy Lathrop. You can also see his influence in modern illustrators and even comic book artists like P. Craig Russell.

Nielsen illustrated a number of classic books of fairy tales and is perhaps most noted for his work on East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from The North.

Late in his career, he became interested in animation and went to work for Disney, contributing designs to Fantasia (notably the Bald Mountain sequence) and its intended follow-up. His style and working methods were not a good match for the high-paced demands of the animation business, however, and his time there was brief.

There is a collection of his work, Nielsen’s Fairy Tale Illustrations in Full Color, another of work from his estate called Unknown Paintings of Kay Nielsen (David Larkin), and you may be able to find some of the fairy tale books with his illustrations, including East of The Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from The North.

Posted in: Illustration   |   8 Comments »

8 comments for Kay Nielsen »

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  1. Comment by marja-leena
    Sunday, October 1, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

    I’ve just recently found your lovely blog. I lvoe this article because some fo these illustrators are my favourite and others are new to me. I love Mucha especially after visiting his museum in Prague, and enjoyed your post about him. We love our Mucha playing cards! I think his art is not as well known as his illustration and design work, so it’s good to see his foundation promoting it.

    Art Nouveau and Jugendstil, especially the latter even had its influence on Finnish architecture and artists like Axel Gallen-Kallela, my favourite Finnish artist of the period.

  2. Comment by peanutbrittle
    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 @ 6:06 pm

    wonderful blog!!! I’m glad that I came across such an informative site about Illustration. I truly appreciate what you have done here, more so because I am an illustrator myself.

    I enjoy Kay Nielsen and Mucha’s art (Nielsen because it reminds me so much of the storybooks I read when I was young.
    Would you mind if I link you as creative resource in my blog? I know many people will love what you have here!

  3. Comment by Charley Parker
    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 @ 10:28 pm


    Thaknsl for letting me know about Gallen-Kallela!

  4. Comment by Charley Parker
    Tuesday, October 3, 2006 @ 10:29 pm


    Thanks for the comments. Links are always welcome.

  5. Comment by fossfor
    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 @ 7:38 am

    this is an excellent blog! really interesting, thank you
    I’ve also linked you

  6. Comment by alexo
    Wednesday, October 4, 2006 @ 11:23 am

    Thanks so much for the post about Kay Nielsen. He has been one of my favorite illustrators since I was a child and received a copy of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”. So nice to read about his influences and those he has influenced. (…and thanks for your great blog—I read it every day)

  7. Comment by Charley Parker
    Sunday, October 8, 2006 @ 8:56 am


    Thanks for the good words and the link.

    Other readers should check out fossfor’s sketchblog, Fossforus.

  8. Comment by Charley Parker
    Sunday, October 8, 2006 @ 8:59 am


    Glad you enjoyed the Nielsen post. I’ve been wanting to get to him for a while. Glad you find lines and colors interesting enought to read every day.

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