In the 1880s Illustration entered a prolific era that is generally regarded as a Golden Age.
This happened because of the convergence of a number of factors : new printing techniques were
being developed, paper production was becoming much cheaper, railways facilitated distribution throughout the continent, and the
population was becoming wealthier as industrialization progressed.
Artists were delighted to see their work exposed to a much broader public. Also an artists were suddenly given the chance to
make a real profit if they could reach the top of the profession – a fact that attracted a number of sublime talents.
American Illustration of this period was anchored by the Brandywine Valley Tradition, began with Howard Pyle and carried on by his
students N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover.
In Europe, Golden Age artists were influenced by Pre-Raphaelites and by such design-oriented movements as the Art and Craft Movement,
Art Nouveau and Les Nabis. Leading artists included Walter Crane, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen.
Russian illustration scene brought gorgeous Ivan Bilibin who was a prolific illustrator and stage artist.
This post is showcasing the illustrations by one of the most influential figures of Golden Era of Illustration Danish artist Kay Nielsen.
He was born in 1886 in Copenhagen into an creative artistic family.
His parents were actors at the Royal Danish Theater. Kay Nielsen studied in Paris from 1904 to 1911.
His works included illustrations “In Powder and Crinoline” and “East of the Sun” and “West of the Moon”,
Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, Nielsen also produced at least three illustrations depicting scenes from the life of Joan of Arc.
Following his theatrical work as a stage artist in Copenhagen’s Roayal Theater, Nielsen returned to illustrated books with the publication of Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen in 1924.
A year later, Nielsen created a remarkable artworks for Hansel and Gretel, and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm which was first published with 12 colour images and over 20 detailed monotone illustrations. A further 5 years passed before the publication of Red Magic, the final title to be illustrated by Nielsen. The 1930 version of Red Magic included 8 colour and more than 50 monotone contributions from the Danish artist.
In 1939 Nielsen left for California and worked for Walt Disney Company for 4 years. Nielsen gained a recognition at the Disney studio
for his remarkable concept art, including paintings for Andersen’s Little Mermaid.
His illustrations were used also in the “Ave Maria” and “Night on Bald Mountain” movies.
When Nielsen returned to Denmark he found his works no longer in demand there. And he spent his final years in poverty.
He worked in local schools and painted ‘The First Spring’ mural installed at Central Junior High School, Los Angeles and churches,
including his painting to the Wong Chapel at the First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, illustrating the 23rd Psalm.
He died in 1957.His wife Ulla with whom he stayed together since age of 21, died the following year.
Before her death, she gave Nielson’s remaining illustrations to Frederick Monhoff, who in turn tried to place them in museums.
However, at the time, none expressed any interest to accept his precious creations full of magic and grace.