Tag Archives: Disney

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


Cartoon Modern and Eyvind Earle

There are two principal directions in visual art: Realism and Abstraction.

Actually, they’re not “directions” as much as “flavors”.  You can mix flavors; you can’t mix directions.  Or maybe it’s a spectrum.  I really don’t know.

Cartoon Modern was a style which came into being in the 1950’s; a child of the Swiss-inspired push for minimal design and the art world’s general shift towards Abstraction.

The characters that emerged from this style are loose and gestural, constructed of a few clean lines and vivid colors.  Saul Bass was a champion of Cartoon Modern (see the opening titles for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), but that’s a whole ‘nother post.  Maurice Noble’s backgrounds for Looney Tunes and many of the characters in earlier Rankin Bass films are also great examples of Cartoon Modern (see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party, etc.)

All of that rabbit-trailing aside, I think the best thing about Cartoon Modern is not the characters, but the use of color.  Suddenly, animators decided it was ok to give characters purple skin and paint trees red.  There was freedom.  And nobody used that freedom like Eyvind Earle.


Eyvind Earle, Three Horses, 1987

Earle was a concept artist for Disney in the 50’s.  One of his early projects with the studio was Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953), on which he did the backgrounds.

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom3_1953

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom2_1953

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom_1953

Disney Studios, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, 1953

He supervised the backgrounds on many golden-era Disney films, and is best known for his art direction on Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Sleeping Beauty c. 1959

EyvindEarleSleepingBeauty_c. 1959

EyvindEarleSleepingBeauty_ c. 1959

earle_beauty_ c. 1959

Eyvind Earle, Concept Work for Sleeping Beauty, 1959

Ending his career at Disney, Earle turned to painting and screen-printing; his work from the 60’s onward was dominated by fantastic landscapes.

winter-1981Eyvind Earle, Winter, 1981

big sur and branch_1974Eyvind Earle, Big Sur and Branch, 1974

Three-Horses-Grazing_oilEyvind Earle, Three Horses Grazing, (date unknown)

Earle had a knack for blending the picky details of Realism with the geometric grace and vivid color of Abstraction.  The results are stunning- maybe Abstraction and Realism are two sides of the same coin?  When they come together… is that where Beauty comes from?

the_wave_1990Eyvind Earle, The Wave, 1990

black oak_1982

Eyvind Earle, Black Oak, 1982

santacruzmountains_1999Eyvind Earle, Santa Cruz Mountains, 1999