torsdag 28 maj 2015

Lady of the lake

It is not often that you see early commercial works By Gustaf Tenggren coming up for auction. Now there's an opportunity to catch one. This great black & white drawing is sold at Wooley and Wallis' auction of Arts and Crafts 17 Jun, 2015.
Black & White crayon drawing, 46 x 16.5cm.
It's made in crayon, either a conté crayon or a lithographic crayon, with highlights in white gouache. This was presumably made around 1925 for a beauty advertisement in one of the major American magazines, like Delineator, Good Housekeeping or Pictorial Review. At the time, Tenggren made ads for some dozen of magazines, and was a fast rising star on the commercial illustration scene of New York City.
Left detail. The focusing of the girl's hair leads you to believe that this is an ad for
shampoo, soap or perfume, of which Tenggren produced a lot at the time.
A unique piece, and seemingly in good shape. The estimate, £300-500, is not unreasonable. For details, call Michael Jeffrey, Arts & Crafts expert at Wooley and Wallis, at +44 (0) 1722 424505.
Right detail. Is this Charon rowing the Styx? His passenger does not look worried though.

torsdag 7 maj 2015

Greetings from winterland

It might seem to be out of season, but a couple of recent e-mails carried along two very nice Tenggren pieces that I'd like to share. The sender wanted me to have a look on a framed print, once given to his grandfather, who had been a commercial artist and had received the picture from Tenggren himself.
Christmas card watercolor, 1940ies.
I instantly recognized it as a Christmas greeting sent by Gustaf and Mollie Tenggren to friends and relatives. The version I had seen was in Swedish and sent to Robert Hartmann, probably sometimes during the 1940ies.
Christmas card (the original card is in color). The text is in Swedish and says:
 "A merrier Christmas for You". The recipient Robert Hartman was born in Germany
but went to Sweden before WWII, married a Swedish wife and was fluent in Swedish. 
But after a closer comparison, I could conclude that the sender's picture was not a print at all. The pasted-on print on the card was cropped much tighter than on his image. What he had was the real original and I could only congratulate him.
That seemed to encourage him to look for more around the house. Soon after this, he sent another item, a printed Christmas card. I had never seen it before but a similar one, which I posted here last Christmas. They are so alike that it makes you think they were two from a series of cards, probably produced in the early 1920ies.
Christmas card, B&W print on cardboard, early 1920ies.
Christmas card, B&W print on cardboard, early 1920ies.
Original signature by Gustaf Tenggren.
The motif with the poor lost characters trying to get some warmth in the cold and dark, snowy night is often used by Tenggren, and shows great compassion for the less fortunate, be it hobos or trolls.
Christmas card, B&W ink wash with highlights in opaque white, 1927. 
One of the earliest is a painting made in Sweden in 1919, a pair of trolls in front of a lighted candle in the midst of the forest. A fair guess would be that this as well is meant for a Christmas greeting in some form; a card or an illustration.
Trolls in the woods, watercolor 1919.
Later in his life Tenggren returned to the theme when he illustrated H C Andersen's heartbreaking fairy tale, The Little Match Girl. The motif is similar to the Christmas card with the troll above, made some twenty years before. Even the kids at the Christmas tree are the same, just with a toddler added.
H C Andersen, The Little Match Girl. Grosset & Dunlap 1944.

tisdag 28 april 2015

Early Tenggren portrait of Rudolf Petersson discovered

Gustaf Tenggren: portrait of Rudolf Petersson,
fellow painting student, party pal and brother-in-law.
Now and then I get a letter with an image and an inquiry whether this is a real Tenggren painting or not. This time the attached jpg featured a portrait. I was quite happily surprised, as I immediately recognized the person. The focused young man with the white scarf and the ever-present pipe was Rudolf Petersson.
Rudolf Petersson from an unknown clipping, app. 1918.
To the main Tenggren fan he may not be familiar, but to some 3-4 generations of Swedes he is the originator of a well-known comic book hero, 91:an Karlsson. The comic strip started already in 1932 and has a large group of dedicated readers to this date, although Petersson himself died in 1970.
Rudolf Petersson at military service 1916.
Petersson got the inspiration for his comic book hero
91:an Karlsson from his time as a soldier.
Gustaf Tenggren and Rudolf Petersson, called Dolle, met when they both attended Valand school of Painting in Gothenburg in autumn of 1915. They became best friends, painting and partying together during the three years they spent at school. 
Gustaf Tenggren: a late drawing depicting his time at Valand school of painting in Gothenburg.
Rudolf "Dolle" Petersson is sitting next to the model.
The Petersson portrait was most likely made in 1916, possibly during a model painting session since Rudolf seems concentrating on depicting a motif. 
In September 1918 Gustaf married Rudolf’s sister Anna and so the two comrades even became brothers-in-law. 
Gustaf Tenggren married Anna Petersson on her birthday October 3rd, 1918. 
As Gustaf and Anna moved to Copenhagen in 1919, Rudolf joined them, living in their apartment. And when the couple left for USA and settled in Cleveland, OH in July 1920, Rudolf followed just the year after. They truly seemed inseparable.
In Cleveland, Rudolf quickly gained reputation as a talented cartoonist and caricaturist and worked for several newspapers, such as The Cleveland News and The Bystander.
Rudolf Petersson and famed jazz orchestra band leader,
Paul Whiteman showing a caricature for a poster
announcing a jazz concert at Keith’s Palace Theatre.
Cleveland News, 1920ies.
However, the friendship may have got chipped as Gustaf started to see another girl, Malin Froberg, who were later to be his wife. From that moment, Gustaf’s and Anna’s already withered marriage gradually fell apart, coming to an end as Gustaf and Mollie left for New York in 1923, leaving Anna and Rudolf in Cleveland. The Petersson siblings returned to Sweden in the thirties. Rudolf started drawing 91:an Karlsson and Anna re-married eventually. She kept an album of clippings about Gustaf all her life.
Rudolf Petersson in his studio 1963. By this time Petersson and
91:an Karlsson had become a part of the national cultural heritage.
The popular soldier even became a statue in Halmstad, Petersson's home town.
A 91:an Karlsson comic album from 1934, two years after its first appearance.
An 60-year anniversary album with the
original and the later version of 91:an Karlsson.
But Rudolf Petersson hardly ever spoke of Gustaf Tenggren later in his life. Maybe that is why the portrait was found in a junk shop in Oslo at the price of 50 Norwegian crowns, or a mere $10.

torsdag 26 mars 2015

The last resort

The other day I received a postcard that I bought on Ebay. Its common interest is probably next to none, except for myself. The motif is Gustaf Tenggren's home at Dogfish Head, West Southport Island, Maine and probably from the 1950ies.
The text reads: The home of Gustav Tenggren -- Dogfish Head, Maine.  As seen from the "Argo".
The boat house is not visible on this photo, indicating it might have not been built yet.
The photo has been taken from the tour boat Argo cruising the Maine archipelago coast
For me, it is interesting to learn that Gustaf Tenggren's fame, if only local, at the time was enough to print this card, which was possibly sold on-board the boat.
The excursion boat "Argo" departed from Bootbay Harbour for day trips along the coast.
The Tenggrens lived in New York City when they found the place by coincidence while sailing along the Maine archipelago coast. It was a former fisherman's homestead, and used to be an important producer of dried codfish. The Tenggrens bought the property in 1943 and moved there in 1944, beginning a major project to transform the buildings into a home and studio.
The structure includes a number of buildings: a dwelling house with Gustaf's studio, a barn,
storage houses. A boat house down at the water was added later. 
The remodeling continued during the 1940ies and 1950ies. Gustaf hired locals for the the work he didn't managed on his own. After Gustaf's death in 1970, Mollie lived in the house until her own death in 1984.
Gustaf and Mollie's home on Dogfish Head seen from top. 
Mollie Tenggren by the boat house.
Gustaf driving his car, possibly the same one as can be sen parked
in front of the house on the postcard.

fredag 20 februari 2015

Heisey's Glassware and Tenggren's history of glass

In the autumn of 1927 Gustaf Tenggren received a commission for an advertisement, depicting the Fenician's discovering the secret of glass-making. Situated in Newark, Ohio, Heisey's glassware was a well established producer of pressed household glass. From originally producing clear glass, in the mid 1920ies the company started to introduce brightly colored glass. Heisey's was the first glass company to use magazine advertising as an essential marketing tool.
In his income ledger Gustaf Tenggren has noted the steps through the delivery process quite detailed, making it possible to follow the complete order from the intermediating company, J Horace Lytle's Ad Agency in Dayton, Ohio.
December 1927: Original B-W watercolor for the ad "The Fenicians discovering glass". 
The first ad, in B-W only, was published in Saturday Evening Post in December 1927. It seems to have been very well received, as it were followed by four more in full color during 1928 and a final one in early 1929. Each of the following illustrations were executed as oil paintings and paid with $800 each, whereas the first B-W ad was $500.
January 1928: Marietta Beroviero reveals her father's craft secrets of
making colored glass to her lover, thus breaking the monopoly.
The row of paintings form a colorful panorama, illustrating some of the highlights in the history of glass. It gave Tenggren another opportunity to excel in historic clothing and consolidated his reputation as one of the more important commercial artists at the time.
May 1928: A Fenician artisan 2000 years ago amazes the Emperor by blowing glass.
July 1928: The Roman noblewoman receives a rare and precious gift, a glass item.
September, 1928: The officers drink to the health of the King, James II,
in a yard long glasses made out of the newly discovered flint glass.
January 1929: Petronius, sentenced to death by Nero, lifts a vase
of poisoned drink, determined to end his life in gaiety.

fredag 23 januari 2015

A Christmas legend of Hamelin Town

Here's a typical Tenggren illustration commission from his great period in the 1920ies. The story was published for the Christmas number of Good Housekeeping in 1928, but the actual work was done and delivered July 15. A month later, August 16, it was paid with $600, a not uncommon sum in Gustaf's ledger from the time.
The two illustrations were probably made in full color but the magazine has chosen to print them in a reduced color scale. The painting is cut in half to fit the spread.
Luckily, I found the original painting while browsing through the Miscellaneous illustration crates in the Tenggren papers, Kerlan Collection at University of Minneapolis, MA.
Opening spread for A Christmas legend of Hamelin Town, Good Housekeeping 1928.
Original painting for A Christmas legend of Hamelin Town.
Kerlan collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries
with permissions from the Archives and Special Collections
The other illustration for this story shows an old lady and a crowd of children. Let alone Tenggren's excellence in painting cute kids, this painting is interesting in another way. The model for the kneeling old lady is Tenggren's own mother, Augusta. 
Full page illustration in three colors for
A Christmas legend of Hamelin Town, Good Housekeeping 1928.
Tenggren often used his relatives as models for his paintings, and he loved his mother very much as I think can be seen from the beautiful portrait from 1932 below.
Gustaf Tenggren: Portrait in chalk of Augusta, mother of the artist, 1932.

torsdag 18 december 2014

A greeting from Christmases gone by

I'd like to wish all Tenggren fans a Merry Christmas with this home-made card from Gustaf Tenggren. It's printed in black but the signature is hand-written.
From its style, it should be from one of the the last years of the 1920ies. It was sent off to a friend and musician in Gothenburg. Tenggren produced a number of personal Christmas cards during the years, of which a few survived. Despite its battered state it shows great graphic craftsmanship.