fredagen den 11:e april 2014

Rare Tenggren books discovered

It was long known that Gustaf Tenggren spent time in Copenhagen in 1919 before he left for USA in July 1920. He had a commission for E. Jespersen's Publishing Company to make 32 illustrations fro Grimm's Fairy Tales. They were completed in 1920 and published in Denmark in 1923. Also in 1919, he painted a portrait of the daughter of publisher Halfdan Jespersen. The rest of his doings in Denmark that year has been benighted - until now.
Thanks to the illustrious Jules Verne Society in Denmark (Det Danske Jules Verne-selskab) and their fabulous website, 10 more titles has been added to Tenggren's row of book commissions. They were published in 1922 and contains a total of 59 black-and-white drawings, plus possibly some covers in full color. Most of the covers were reused from the previous editions but two  (20,000 leagues under the sea and The children of captain Grant) were new and might have been painted by Tenggren.
Cover for Illustration for
20,000 leagues under the sea, Jespersen's forlag 1922
Illustration for 20,000 leagues under the sea.
Illustration for 20,000 leagues under the sea.
I got on track when I read a letter from Gustaf Tenggren to a publisher, listing his illustrated work and mentioning these early illustrations. The 10 books had already been published in several illustrated editions before, but Tenggren was hired to re-draw the original french illustrations, perhaps of printing technical reasons. Despite his youth, being only 23 years at the time, he managed to produce a nice row of drawings, obviously without exceeding his very talented predecessors. None of the illustrations are signed, which is very unlike Tenggren. Maybe that is the reason these illustrations has been relatively unknown until now.
An advertisement announcing the publishing for
the series of  Jules Verne books in 1922.
List of the 10 Jules Verne books illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren in 1919 and published in 1922.
  1. "En Verdensomsejling under Havet" (20,000 leagues under the sea) 6 B-W illustrations. 
  2. "Kaptajn Grants Børn" (The Children of Captain Grant), 6 B-W illustrations.
  3. "Den hemmelighedsfulde Ø" (The Mysterious Island) 5 B-W illustrations
  4. "Det rullende Hus" (The Steam House) 6 B-W illustrations. 
  5. "Fem Uger i Ballon" (Five Weeks in a Balloon), 6 B-W illustrations. 
  6. "Jorden rundt i 80 Dage" (Around the World in 80 Days) 6 B-W illustrations.
  7. "Kaptajnen paa 15 Aar" (A Captain at Fifteen) 5 B-W illustrations.
  8. "Kejserens Kurér" (Michael Strogoff) 6 B-W illustrations.
  9. "Rejsen til Maanen" (From the Earth to the Moon), 6 B-W illustrations.
  10. "Keraban Stivnakke" (Kéraban the Inflexible) 7 B-W illustrations.

A detailed overview can be studied at The Danish Jules Verne Society's homepage.
Thank you for your kind help in retrieving this!

måndagen den 7:e april 2014

Old friends

The other day I visited the Studio of Bildmakarna Berg. It is maintained by the grandchildren of Folke Wilhelmsson Berg, Gustaf Tenggren's old friend and fellow art student at Valand's School of Art. Nowadays Folke's son, Björn Berg, is probably more well-known to the public, as the illustrator of Astrid Lindgren's Emil i Lönneberga and many other children's books. The Studio keeps all Björn Berg's art.
Maja Berg Lindelöw, next to a self-portrait by her father, Björn Berg.
The Folke Berg family went to USA at about the same time as Gustaf Tenggren, and Björn Berg himself grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He admired Gustaf a lot and during his first years he aspired to work in the same style as his idol. Later he became one of Sweden's foremost newspaper illustrators.
Emma Miller Bolenius and Marion George Kellogg
Mother Goose, Houghton Mifflin 1929
Björn had saved some nice keepsakes from Tenggren, like photos, letters and paintings, which I was lucky enough to be able to borrow. One his dearest was a Mother Goose book that he received at a visit to Gustaf Tenggren's New York flat.
Early morning Christmas Day Mass, 1934.
Painting by Gustaf Tenggren presented to Folke Berg.
Some very nice letters from the Tenggrens are in the collection too, including this nice one, written on Disney stationery (not designed by Tenggren). Mollie is happy to announce that after Gustaf has completed his work for Pinocchio they will go on a vacation to Sweden! Unfortunately, this never happened - Gustaf Tenggren never returned to Sweden, not even to be buried, as he had wished.
Letter from Mollie Tenggren to Folke and Gertrud Berg,
December 2, 1938. 
In 1973, after Gustaf Tenggren was gone, Björn and his family went to visit Mollie in Maine and was guided around the house and got to see Gustaf's kept originals. There were piles and piles of art, all sorted and well preserved for storage.
Home and studio of Gustaf Tenggren, Dogfish Head, West Southport, Maine.
Some nice photos from the home and studio shows a tidy home with a mixture of Tenggren art and antique folk art items from Dalarna in Sweden. In the bookshelf, a yellow row of National Geographics gives a hint of Gustaf's big interest for travels. Too bad none of them included Sweden.

fredagen den 28:e mars 2014

A date you can't refuse

During the nineties, when I trawled Ebay for all kinds of Tenggren art, I bought this great advertisement, cut from Saturday Evening Post. I have always thought it to be one of Gustaf Tenggren's most beautiful paintings, applying his fairy tale sense to a professional context, including one of his favorite themes throughout his career, the Arabian Nights motif.
Dromedary Dates advertisement, Saturday Evening Post Christmas issue 1929
So I was quite excited when I got an e-mail with some blurred iPhone photos and an inquiry from the owner. She had inherited from her father, who in his turn had saved it from being put in the garbage at a company cleaning. After a closer look I could confirm that it was indeed the stunning original for this ad. 
Original painting for the advertisement above, pencil and watercolor on Whatman artboard.
It's very rare that you see one of Tenggren's advertisement paintings. They seem to have been kept at the printer or hidden in the piles of art in the backrooms of the ad bureaus, as a lot of other great illustration art. So it's wonderful to see that an almost ninety year old painting has survived in pretty good shape. From Tenggren's order book we learn that this commission for Dromedary dates was ordered by Pedlar & Ryan Agency for Saturday Evening Post's Christmas issue 1929. It was completed in September 19th that year, and Tenggren was paid $650 for the job ten days later, September 29th. A sum Tenggren was accustomed to, being one of the top paid illustrators, just a decade after his arrival from Sweden.

Just a month later, at the 29th of October 1929, was the date of the Black Tuesday which started the depression and put a black cloud over USA for the next ten years.

tisdagen den 11:e mars 2014

Elegant as ever

This image was published in November 29, 1956. The famous Saturday Evening Post Cover with Walt Disney had been published just a couple of weeks ago and the local Maine paper The Boothbay Register was making a visit by the artist. At the time his main scope was to meet the deadline for the 100 full color illustrations for Arabian Nights, that were to be delivered in December.

Gustaf Tenggren had just recently celebrated his 60 year birthday in November 3, 1956, when this picture was published.
He doesn't look too overwhelmed, being disturbed in his work.
This 60 year old gentleman is painting along in a nice suit and and tie. On the drawing board is one of the stunning pages illustrating a ferocious fight at sea. It all turned out to be one of his most beautiful books ever. Below is the remarkable original, kept in the vaults of Kerlan Collection in University of Minneapolis, Minnesota. 
Full page from Sindbad the Sailor, Margaret Seifer's compilation of Golden Tales from Arabian Nights
published by Simon & Schuster in 1957.
Kerlan collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries with permissions from the Archives and Special Collections.

måndagen den 10:e mars 2014

Let the children come

The renowned NY auction house Illustration House has a great Tenggren piece at their auction March 15 2014. It is one of a series of paintings made for The Sunday World Magazine, each illustrating a humorous verse with a fairy tale or mythological theme. This one is for The Pied Piper of Hameln, and shows the rat catcher luring a row of children to bring them away from the parents of Hameln, since they refused to pay him for exterminating the rats of the town. A horrible story with a wonderful illustration!
The Pied Piper of Hameln, 1930
 At the time of producing this series of paintings, Gustaf Tenggren lived in Primrose Hill, Rhinebeck, in Dutchess County, N. Y. Gustaf and Mollie bought the place November 29, 1929, just a month after the big stock market crash. It was a small farm where they kept a horse, a cow, a pig, a dog and 40 hens.
Print from Sunday World Magazine, December 7, 1930
The row of illustrated verses were published from early 1930 up to the closing of the magazine in spring 1931. The illustrations included Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Pandora's Box and Snow White to mention some; unfortunately they were printed with a rotogravure process and on low-quality, brittle paper, and very few of these clippings are left today, which makes the originals yet more desirable.

fredagen den 7:e mars 2014


During the 1920ies, Gustaf was overwhelmed with jobs for the commercial market. There where a number of companies producing silverware, glassware, watches and silk stockings, all wanting to hire "Gustaf Tenggren, the young talented artist, rapidly coming into fame", as The New York Daily Mirror put it in an article from the mid twenties.
But at the same time he kept his illustration commissions. As his time was heavily scheduled he often worked double, as can be seen from these examples.
Cover for Bland Tomtar och Troll, Åhlén och Åkerlund 1926
1926 was the last year he illustrated the Swedish fairy tale annual Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls). The cover of his tenth book in the series shows a small boy on a winged horse, which has got nothing to do with any tale in the book. The illustrations were delivered to Åhlén och Åkerlund in May 1926.
Cover for Ruth Campbell, Small Fry and the Winged Horse, Volland 1927
In July the same year he delivered illustrations for Small Fry and The Winged Horse to be published Volland in 1927. The thought that the Bland Tomtar och Troll cover was first meant for Small Fry but refused by the publisher is not far away. 
Mercury running on the waves, illustration from Small Fry and the Winged Horse
Additionally you can see sea swallows on the BToT cover that appear in an illustration in Small Fry. It's easy to imagine the piles of drawings and paintings all mixed up on the drawing table in Tenggren's Manhattan Studio. And in the parlor at the same time, a young woman is waiting to sit for her portrait. Poor man.

fredagen den 21:e februari 2014


All of his life Gustaf Tenggren was adaptive for new styles, techniques and motifs. There are several examples where influence from other artists is obvious: Arthur Rackham, John Bauer, Axel Gallén-Kallela, Ivar Arosenius and Edmund Dulac are just some of them. That is simply the price you pay to be working within a tradition.
Among the artists he loved to get inspiration from, he counted himself. He kept a vast and growing archive of images from magazines, art books and illustrations, including his own. Here is one of the more apparent examples: a tale of giants from Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Grimm's Eventyr, 1923
The Tenggren Tell-It-Again Book, 1942
The first one is from Grimm's Eventyr, published by Jespersen's forlag in Denmark 1923. The second comes from The Tenggren's Tell-It-Again Book, published by Little, Brown & Co in 1942.
The difference in style is obvious. Between the two, Gustaf Tenggren had been flushed through the big style washing machine, Walt Disney's Studios, where he did play a large role for the style of many animated film classics: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi to mention some. Still, I think he made it through to the other side very well. He kept his draftsmanship and eye for color all of his life; you can always spot a Tenggren artwork, be it old or new... sorry, less old.