Great Job, World.

The World has treated its brilliant minds well. Beethoven, Michelangelo, Andy Warhol (hmm, maybe not Andy); they’re all comfortably ensconced in shrines of eternal adoration, their names ringing through the halls of history. While they were alive, they had the best of everything.  Now that they’re dead, they’re immortal.

And then there are the others. The World nervously bites its lip as we list the names: Van Gogh, Bach, Oscar Wilde. The ones who died face-down in the World’s ditch. Yeah… about those.

Kay Nielsen was one such artist.

Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen_1924Kay Nielsen, from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, 1924

Nielsen_In Powder and Crinoline_1913Kay Nielsen, from In Powder and Crinoline, 1913

A contemporary of Arthur Rackham, he was one of the last “greats” of illustration’s Golden Age (roughly 1880-1930). He began his career in book illustration, tackling the traditional fairy-tales with singular flair.

Nielsen_In Powder and Crinoline_1913_02Kay Nielsen, from In Powder and Crinoline, 1913

Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories_1925Kay Nielsen, from Hansel and Gretel, and Other Stories, 1925

Nielsen_eastrofthesun_troll_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

In the late 30’s he moved to California to work for Disney, where he did concept work on Fantasia and The Little Mermaid.

Night On Bare Mountain_Nielsen_1939Kay Nielsen, concept painting for Night on Bare Mountain from Fantasia, 1939

And then, after 4 years at Disney, he was let go.

Returning to his native country of Denmark, Nielsen attempted to renew his career in book illustration, but he found that his turn-of-the-century style was no longer in vogue. Vogue is a capricious mistress.

Need I say more? He died a brilliant pauper, sick and penniless. When a friend tried to place his work in museums, none of them expressed any interest. Good job, World.

Nielsen_EastoftheSun_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

Nielsen_WestofTheMoon_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

This is upsetting. So I want to take this moment to say: Kay Nielsen, we’re so sorry. You were pretty great, and we should have taken better care of you.

At Rest in the Dark Wood_East of the Sun and West of the Moon_1914Kay Nielsen, from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, 1914

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