måndag 28 april 2014

The donkey lettuce

The other day I had the great joy to intermediate in the receipt of a nice Tenggren painting. Mr Clas Albanus from Mariefred arrived in Stockholm, carrying the little painting with the shimmering color and odd motif, and signed "Tenggren 1917". Mr Albanus had inherited the painting from his father, but didn't feel it fit in his home, which, I gladly declare, made me quite happy as it brought yet another hidden Tenggren treasure to the surface.
Mr Clas Albanus from Mariefred holding the watercolor "The Donkey Lettuce".
The motif of the picture was quite intriguing, but obviously an illustration for a special story. It pictured a hunter looking up a tree with a flock of birds fighting over some kind of clothing.
Front side of painting with original framing 
The frame backing carried a hand-written text which was almost impossible to read because of its age and wear. The line "Bought in 1917-1918" could barely be distinguished. The clipping from Saturday Evening Post 1956, where Diane Disney Miller's "My Father Walt Disney" was published, shows that the owner was well aware of Tenggren's fame.
Back side of painting with original backing
After I carefully had removed the backing, the truth was revealed. The watercolor was executed on a nice, high quality Whatman art board, which proved that Tenggren already at this early stage of his career had the economy to afford his careful choice of material. A text, presumably written by Tenggren himself, told me that this was an illustration for one of Grimm's fairy tales, "The Donkey Lettuce". I didn't recognize it as ever being published. I found the tale easily in the edition of Grimm's fairy tales from 1923. The clothing in the tree was a wishing cloak, as the hunterhad already been told by a witch. Later in the fairy tale the hunter found a field of magic lettuce; one sort of the lettuce turned you into a donkey, while another made you human again, hence the odd name of the tale. One comes to think of the frightful scenes in Pinocchio where Lampglass and Pinocchio turn into donkeys on the Island of Joy, but there is probably no connection.
Without its glass, the painting itself revealed the great handicraft and a subtle color treatment used in the tradition of Rackham and Dulac. Tenggren had applied fluid color washes over the surface and carefully washed it out with a damp brush to add light in the subdued areas. The whole rendition was held in ocher and turquoise which created a transparent, glowing light.
"The Donkey Lettuce", unpublished illustration for Grimm's Fairy Tales, Jespersen's 1923. 
This painting also showed that Gustaf Tenggren had started his commission for Grimm's Fairy Tales already in 1917, unlike in 1918 that was earlier presumed. Maybe this was a pilot for the job, but never used. I'm so happy that it was bought and kept by Clas Albanus' father to be enjoyed even today, almost a hundred years later.

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