onsdag 31 augusti 2016

From left-over puppy to all-time bestseller

Janette Sebring Lowry: "The Poky Little Puppy" Simon and Schuster, 1942.

In the spring of 1940, Artists and Writers Guild, a subsidiary to Western Printing, and publishing company Simon and Schuster had agreed to launch a series of low-cost children’s books. They would combine quality stories with attractive illustrations and offer affordable literature for every child all over the continent through vast print runs. The Little Golden Book was born.
The first batch contained twelve books, including the five-tale compilation “Bedtime Stories” that was commissioned to Gustaf Tenggren. The other scripts had already all been handed out, except for one: “The Poky Little Puppy” by Janette Sebring Lowry. Tenggren was asked if he knew anyone that would be suitable for the job, and said that he might try it on himself. Thus, he became the only one receiving two of the books in this historic start-up.
Daniel K. Smith, whose parents worked with the Tenggren’s, has the facts about the creation of the iconic canine. Mollie Tenggren has retold to him how Gustaf initially, as with many other commissions, was hesitant to start on the painting process. He would usually wait until the final deadline and then lock himself up in the studio and produce the book. Mollie was always relieved when he finally started the project. She'd tell people “Shhhhh, he’s working on the book” and keep them away. This time, he had no dog models. The first attempts were, according to Mollie, “…terrible! A whole lot of dogs of various breeds!” Instead, she suggested that he “use that little dog he created before”, referring to “Scally” in the “Good Dog Book” from 1923. Gustaf went back to the drawing table and started over. The remodelled appearance of this left-over pup would eventually become a popular classic next to none.
"The Good Dog Book" anthology. Houghton and Mifflin, 1924.
One of the shorts stories included Scally, allegedly the model for The Poky Little Puppy.

The twelve books were published in 50,000 copies each, and the total print-run of 600,000 copies arrived at the bookstores in October 1942. The success was instant: the complete print run sold out immediately, and after five months all twelve titles had been printed three times each, encompassing 1,500,000 copies, or 125,000 per title. Of these, “The Poky Little Puppy” would by far be the most popular. By the turn of the Millennium 2000, the book had been printed in over 15,000,000 copies, making it the most selling illustrated children’s book in America ever.
Janette Sebring Lowry: "Where is the Poky Little Puppy?"
Simon and Schuster, 1962.
In 1962, the sequel” Where is the Poky Little Puppy?” was presented, possibly to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the predecessor. It would be Gustaf Tenggren’s last Little Golden Book of totally 17 produced. Needless to say, it never reached even the fraction of its forerunner’s sales. But then again, not many books did.

fredag 29 april 2016

A theme with variations

Last week an early Tenggren painting came up for sale in Stockholm. It was very decorative, and the auction house thought it be an illustration for Aladdin, the Persian tale from Arabian Nights. I recognized it as a study for a series of decorations for Palladium, a then new-built cinema theater in Gothenburg. The Palladium was inaugurated on August 14, 1919, and was financed by Fred and Anton Kanold, two brothers in the confectionery business.
Christ and the Adulteress.
Watercolor 1919.
For the theater foyer, some dozen of paintings were commissioned from Gustaf Tenggren. In the 1970ies, the cinema was refurbished and the paintings disappeared. Only three of them were discovered some ten years ago. They all depict scenes from early silent movies that were presumably screening at the theater at the time. One of them is inspired by D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance" from 1916, and shows the scene where Christ defends the adulteress from the mob. Tenggren's signature on the sketch reveals that it was made in 1919, which is also the case with the final painting. It seems probable that Tenggren has showed the first proposal to the commissioners, but then been asked to make the paintings more realistic. 
Christ and the Adulteress, scene from D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance" from 1916.
 Decoration for theater foyer. Watercolor 1919.
It's obvious that these early painting bear a strong influence from the anti-Semitic currents that were common at the time. Cartoons with stereotype Jewish characters were published in each and every magazine and newspaper, and Tenggren, who was always eager to fulfill the commissioner's requirements, has naively followed the stream. 
After his emigrating to USA in 1920, these typecast caricatures is hard to find. An illustration for Abraham Mithrie Rhibany´s "The Christ Story for Boys and Girls" from 1923 shows the scene in more solemn depiction. 
Christ and the Adulteress.
Illustration for Abrahm Mithrie Rhibany, The Christ Story for Boys and Girls, 1923.
Watercolor 1923.
This scene obviously depicts the theme of Christ and the Adulteress as well, but as the book was aimed for boys and girls, the editor has chosen to use it to illustrate Christ healing the sick instead. 

torsdag 10 mars 2016

Jack Sprat and his wife - a perfect match


The Mother Goose book was one of a number of readers that the teacher in English, Emma Miller Bolenius, wrote for Houghton Mifflin during the 1920ies. The book was "A Work and Play Book for Silent Reading", as the subtitle said. This Tenggren book has previously been presented here.

Emma Miller Bolenius: Mother Goose Book 1929
The first version had a pasted-on front cover,
also used as a frontispiece.
Emma Miller Bolenius: Mother Goose Book 1929
The following copies had an alternate,
line-drawing front cover printed on the cloth.
The inlays were identical.

The three various versions of the well-known verse about Jack Sprat and his wife make up another great example of how a well-known popular theme has been illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren at various times, resulting in different styles. The earliest one from 1929 adapts to the line drawing style of the previous readers in the series, but also owes a lot to the style of the English artist W. Heath Robinson.

Jack Sprat, Mother Goose Book 1929
For an advertisement in Saturday Evening Post in 1935, Gustaf has used his well established and sought-after traditional fairy tale style, resembling of Arthur Rackham's. This is the year before he joined the Disney Studio, and this may be one of the very last examples of this type.
Jack Sprat used in an advertisement in Saturday Evening Post 1935
 The last illustration on this theme comes from The Tenggren Mother Goose in 1940, a year after his leaving Disney. Here, Tenggren has adopted a totally new approach, using tempera colors. The stringy line drawing is gone and the surfaces are treated as flattened colorful forms, assembled to build up the painting. This would be the style used for the remainder of Tenggren's post-WWII books.
Jack Sprat, The Tenggren Mother Goose 1940


måndag 14 december 2015

Gustaf bought Swedish antiques collected in 1905

The other day I bought a photograph of William Widgery Thomas. Born in Portland, Maine in 1839, he was a member of a family counting its heritage back to George Cleeve, founder of Portland in 1632.
Thomas studied law and in his thirties he was sent by Abraham Lincoln to Sweden as a consul, where he was placed in Gothenburg 1863 – 1865. He became deeply committed to the people and culture of the country, even learning to speak Swedish during his stay.
William Widgery Thomas, 1839 - 1927
Pioneer within American - Swedish diplomatic connections.
He returned to Sweden as a diplomat for two periods, first as a minister resident 1883 – 1885 and later as an ambassador in Stockholm between 1898 and 1905. He amazed the audiences, both in Sweden and later in the Swedish-American colonies, by holding his speeches in Swedish. He married a Swedish woman and acquired a mansion-like summer cottage by the sea, just outside Karlshamn in southeastern Sweden. After his death in 1927, at the age of 88, he was buried in Portland, lauded as being one of the most important persons within the Swedish-American relations.
So what is his connection Gustaf Tenggren?
In 1904, W W Thomas' nephew, Henry George Thomas, traveled the county of Dalarna in Sweden collecting rural antiques of all kinds. The next year over a thousand of items were shipped to Portland, Maine, where they stayed put in storage until 1945 when the whole collection was purchased by Gustaf Tenggren. No one knows what the things were meant for, or why they were never unpacked. There are guesses about a Swedish museum connected to the colony of Swedish immigrants that W W Thomas brought to Maine.
The photo was taken in 1921 when he was once more urged to go to Sweden as minister. While at that time being 82, he declined.
Gustaf Tenggren in the midst of a number of
the more than thousand Swedish antiques acquired in 1945.

måndag 24 augusti 2015

Hidden treasures revealed

A great addition to the canon of lauds on the early designers of The Disney Golden Years has arrived last week. Didier Ghez' "They drew as they pleased" is the first in a row of biography compilations, covering the foremost inspirational artists that gave the look and feel to the Disney movies through the years.
Lars Emanuelsson with a copy of "They drew as they pleased" by Didier Ghez.
This first one in the series presents the most prominent artists of the nineteenthirties: Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horwath, Gustaf Tenggren and Bianca Majolie. The research for the biographies are very thorough and present a whole lot of new data, and along with the spectacular images, of which most are so far unpublished, this book makes up a real treasury of knowledge, beauty and inspiration.
The book release is due for September 8, but it can be pre-ordered here.
To the advantages of this publication may be added that it features some wonderful, hitherto unseen images of Gustaf Tenggren artwork. Also the front and back cover sports great Tenggren art which, in my opininon, is quite accurate.  

onsdag 5 augusti 2015

Beautiful paintings for grim tales

The first internationally published, and therefor possibly best known, works of Gustaf Tenggren are the illustrations for "Grimm's Fairy Tales". The 32 full color paintings were executed 1917-1920. In 1919, Tenggren even moved to Copenhagen while he was simultaneously occupied with another project for the publisher, "Jules Verne's Novels" in ten volumes, described earlier in this blog. The four last of the Grimm paintings were delivered to Jespersen from Cleveland, OH, after Tenggren's migration to USA in the summer of 1920. One of them, with the two trolls, was supposedly included in the small group of three, sold at Bruun-Rasmussen's Auction House in Copenhagen yesterday, August 4th, 2015.
Illustration for Grimm's Fairy Tales:
The Brave Little Tailor, watercolor 1920.
The two-part volume of the Grimm tales was produced by Jespersen's publishing Company in Copenhagen, who published it in 1923. But already in 1922, it was published in Sweden by Bonnier's, indicating a co-operation between the two publishers. Later it was also published in Norway and in 1925 in Germany, this time in one volume by the name of Grimm's Märchenschatz.
Illustration for Grimm's Fairy Tales: 
Snow White, watercolor 1919.
Apparently Tenggren's original paintings for the book was presented to the new owner after Jespersen's divestment of the company to Lindhardt og Ringhof publishing company in the early 1980ies. At that time, about a half of the totally 32 paintings was sold at Bruun-Rasmussen, but the owner obviously saved these three treasures at the time. They are surely some of the very best from the collection, and we can only wait for the remaining some ten pieces to surface.
Illustration for Grimm's Fairy Tales: 
Tinkerbell, watercolor 1919.

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.