fredag 28 mars 2014

A date you can't refuse

During the nineties, when I trawled Ebay for all kinds of Tenggren art, I bought this great advertisement, cut from Saturday Evening Post. I have always thought it to be one of Gustaf Tenggren's most beautiful paintings, applying his fairy tale sense to a professional context, including one of his favorite themes throughout his career, the Arabian Nights motif.
Dromedary Dates advertisement, Saturday Evening Post Christmas issue 1929
So I was quite excited when I got an e-mail with some blurred iPhone photos and an inquiry from the owner. She had inherited from her father, who in his turn had saved it from being put in the garbage at a company cleaning. After a closer look I could confirm that it was indeed the stunning original for this ad. 
Original painting for the advertisement above, pencil and watercolor on Whatman artboard.
It's very rare that you see one of Tenggren's advertisement paintings. They seem to have been kept at the printer or hidden in the piles of art in the backrooms of the ad bureaus, as a lot of other great illustration art. So it's wonderful to see that an almost ninety year old painting has survived in pretty good shape. From Tenggren's order book we learn that this commission for Dromedary dates was ordered by Pedlar & Ryan Agency for Saturday Evening Post's Christmas issue 1929. It was completed in September 19th that year, and Tenggren was paid $650 for the job ten days later, September 29th. A sum Tenggren was accustomed to, being one of the top paid illustrators, just a decade after his arrival from Sweden.

Just a month later, at the 29th of October 1929, was the date of the Black Tuesday which started the depression and put a black cloud over USA for the next ten years.

tisdag 11 mars 2014

Elegant as ever

This image was published in November 29, 1956. The famous Saturday Evening Post Cover with Walt Disney had been published just a couple of weeks ago and the local Maine paper The Boothbay Register was making a visit by the artist. At the time his main scope was to meet the deadline for the 100 full color illustrations for Arabian Nights, that were to be delivered in December.

Gustaf Tenggren had just recently celebrated his 60 year birthday in November 3, 1956, when this picture was published.
He doesn't look too overwhelmed, being disturbed in his work.
This 60 year old gentleman is painting along in a nice suit and and tie. On the drawing board is one of the stunning pages illustrating a ferocious fight at sea. It all turned out to be one of his most beautiful books ever. Below is the remarkable original, kept in the vaults of Kerlan Collection in University of Minneapolis, Minnesota. 
Full page from Sindbad the Sailor, Margaret Seifer's compilation of Golden Tales from Arabian Nights
published by Simon & Schuster in 1957.
Kerlan collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries with permissions from the Archives and Special Collections.

måndag 10 mars 2014

Let the children come

The renowned NY auction house Illustration House has a great Tenggren piece at their auction March 15 2014. It is one of a series of paintings made for The Sunday World Magazine, each illustrating a humorous verse with a fairy tale or mythological theme. This one is for The Pied Piper of Hameln, and shows the rat catcher luring a row of children to bring them away from the parents of Hameln, since they refused to pay him for exterminating the rats of the town. A horrible story with a wonderful illustration!
The Pied Piper of Hameln, 1930
 At the time of producing this series of paintings, Gustaf Tenggren lived in Primrose Hill, Rhinebeck, in Dutchess County, N. Y. Gustaf and Mollie bought the place November 29, 1929, just a month after the big stock market crash. It was a small farm where they kept a horse, a cow, a pig, a dog and 40 hens.
Print from Sunday World Magazine, December 7, 1930
The row of illustrated verses were published from early 1930 up to the closing of the magazine in spring 1931. The illustrations included Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Pandora's Box and Snow White to mention some; unfortunately they were printed with a rotogravure process and on low-quality, brittle paper, and very few of these clippings are left today, which makes the originals yet more desirable.

fredag 7 mars 2014


During the 1920ies, Gustaf was overwhelmed with jobs for the commercial market. There where a number of companies producing silverware, glassware, watches and silk stockings, all wanting to hire "Gustaf Tenggren, the young talented artist, rapidly coming into fame", as The New York Daily Mirror put it in an article from the mid twenties.
But at the same time he kept his illustration commissions. As his time was heavily scheduled he often worked double, as can be seen from these examples.
Cover for Bland Tomtar och Troll, Åhlén och Åkerlund 1926
1926 was the last year he illustrated the Swedish fairy tale annual Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls). The cover of his tenth book in the series shows a small boy on a winged horse, which has got nothing to do with any tale in the book. The illustrations were delivered to Åhlén och Åkerlund in May 1926.
Cover for Ruth Campbell, Small Fry and the Winged Horse, Volland 1927
In July the same year he delivered illustrations for Small Fry and The Winged Horse to be published Volland in 1927. The thought that the Bland Tomtar och Troll cover was first meant for Small Fry but refused by the publisher is not far away. 
Mercury running on the waves, illustration from Small Fry and the Winged Horse
Additionally you can see sea swallows on the BToT cover that appear in an illustration in Small Fry. It's easy to imagine the piles of drawings and paintings all mixed up on the drawing table in Tenggren's Manhattan Studio. And in the parlor at the same time, a young woman is waiting to sit for her portrait. Poor man.