I do have more Charles Robinson art to post, but I thought I would take a break from that to feature some work from something a bit more seasonally appropriate.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are among my favorite childhood stories, and of all of them The Snow Queen is at the top of the heap for me. It is among Andersen’s longer stories and thus feels more fleshed out than his shorter, more allegorical works. The Snow Queen, first published in 1845, has clearly influenced a great many works since its publication, some more than others. I mean, in case no one noticed, a major plot point of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (not to mention the main villain) was pretty much ripped off whole-cloth from it.
There are a lot of cool things about this story. It’s one of the few fairy tales where almost all of the major heroes and the central villain are female. In fact, it is an outright reversal of the damsel in distress motif: the abducted/imprisoned victim, Kai (spelled Kay in some versions but pronounced like ‘pie’), in this case is a boy while his rescuer, Gerda, is a girl. Andersen really paid attention to the nuances of his female characters too; for example, the little robber girl who assists Gerda on her quest is one of the original tomboys of literature, a true little bad-ass who never combs her hair and sleeps with a dagger under her pillow. This is also a sweet romantic tale of first love between children, and even though it is a fairy tale–and an old one–the children rarely ring false, which, if you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know is a huge gripe of mine.
At any rate, many artists have tackled this work, and some of the art created for it is simply astounding. Here are several pieces from various editions of the story featuring some of the best illustrators of yesterday and today.
Henry Justice (H.J.) Ford was a British painter and Art Nouveau illustrator best known for his work on Andrew Lang’s color-coded Fairy Book series; trade paperback versions of these are available at Dover for a pretty reasonable price. If you don’t want to buy them, however, most of them are available as e-books at my favorite online reading spot, Open Library. I believe these illustrations came from The Pink Fairy Book.
This next batch of lovely Art Deco flavored illustrations was created by Russian artist (one of several whose work will be seen in the Snow Queen posts–Russian children apparently adore this story, which makes sense if you think about it) who began her career not as an illustrator but as a painter and sculptor, but her father having died young, she was forced to hire out her talent in ways that provided more immediate gains so that her family could make ends meet. Yep, the history of art is full of stories like that, folks.
Contemporary British artist Christian Birmingham has illustrated prize-winning children’s books such as The Wreck of the Zanzibar and The Butterfly Lion, but seems to prefer the ones with winter settings, making The Snow Queen an ideal match-up for him. Note: some of these images are cropped from double-page spreads, so you will see some distortions due to the folding caused by the book’s spine.
Our final artist for the first part of our Snow Queen series is another one of those Russian illustrators I mentioned earlier. Boris Diodorov is beloved in Russia not only for his work on the traditional fairy tales and the works of Leo Tolstoy, but also for introducing a Ruskie-fied rendition of Winnie the Pooh during the Cold War, assuring millions of Russian children would grow up adoring the ticklish, honey-loving Anglo icon too. Things like that probably did way more to thaw the ice between America and the Soviet Union than the likes of Reagan and Bush Sr. anyway. But this isn’t about politics, so let’s save that for another post and just enjoy the wonderful pictures, eh? Diodorov’s work here is a little darker than that of the other artists, but it is a pretty dark story about a kidnapped boy, so it isn’t inappropriate. And I think there’s an ambiance of Rackham and Dulac (both of whom have illustrated this story as well, incidentally) here. What do you think?