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.

fredag 11 april 2014

Rare Tenggren books discovered

It was long known that Gustaf Tenggren spent time in Copenhagen in 1919 before he left for USA in July 1920. He had a commission for E. Jespersen's Publishing Company to make 32 illustrations fro Grimm's Fairy Tales. They were completed in 1920 and published in Denmark in 1923. Also in 1919, he painted a portrait of the daughter of publisher Halfdan Jespersen. The rest of his doings in Denmark that year has been benighted - until now.
Thanks to the illustrious Jules Verne Society in Denmark (Det Danske Jules Verne-selskab) and their fabulous website, 10 more titles has been added to Tenggren's row of book commissions. They were published in 1922 and contains a total of 59 black-and-white drawings, plus possibly some covers in full color. Most of the covers were reused from the previous editions but two  (20,000 leagues under the sea and The children of captain Grant) were new and might have been painted by Tenggren.
Cover for Illustration for
20,000 leagues under the sea, Jespersen's forlag 1922
Illustration for 20,000 leagues under the sea.
Illustration for 20,000 leagues under the sea.
I got on track when I read a letter from Gustaf Tenggren to a publisher, listing his illustrated work and mentioning these early illustrations. The 10 books had already been published in several illustrated editions before, but Tenggren was hired to re-draw the original french illustrations, perhaps of printing technical reasons. Despite his youth, being only 23 years at the time, he managed to produce a nice row of drawings, obviously without exceeding his very talented predecessors. None of the illustrations are signed, which is very unlike Tenggren. Maybe that is the reason these illustrations has been relatively unknown until now.
An advertisement announcing the publishing for
the series of  Jules Verne books in 1922.
List of the 10 Jules Verne books illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren in 1919 and published in 1922.
  1. "En Verdensomsejling under Havet" (20,000 leagues under the sea) 6 B-W illustrations. 
  2. "Kaptajn Grants Børn" (The Children of Captain Grant), 6 B-W illustrations.
  3. "Den hemmelighedsfulde Ø" (The Mysterious Island) 5 B-W illustrations
  4. "Det rullende Hus" (The Steam House) 6 B-W illustrations. 
  5. "Fem Uger i Ballon" (Five Weeks in a Balloon), 6 B-W illustrations. 
  6. "Jorden rundt i 80 Dage" (Around the World in 80 Days) 6 B-W illustrations.
  7. "Kaptajnen paa 15 Aar" (A Captain at Fifteen) 5 B-W illustrations.
  8. "Kejserens Kurér" (Michael Strogoff) 6 B-W illustrations.
  9. "Rejsen til Maanen" (From the Earth to the Moon), 6 B-W illustrations.
  10. "Keraban Stivnakke" (Kéraban the Inflexible) 7 B-W illustrations.

A detailed overview can be studied at The Danish Jules Verne Society's homepage.
Thank you for your kind help in retrieving this!

måndag 7 april 2014

Old friends

The other day I visited the Studio of Bildmakarna Berg. It is maintained by the grandchildren of Folke Wilhelmsson Berg, Gustaf Tenggren's old friend and fellow art student at Valand's School of Art. Nowadays Folke's son, Björn Berg, is probably more well-known to the public, as the illustrator of Astrid Lindgren's Emil i Lönneberga and many other children's books. The Studio keeps all Björn Berg's art.
Maja Berg Lindelöw, next to a self-portrait by her father, Björn Berg.
The Folke Berg family went to USA at about the same time as Gustaf Tenggren, and Björn Berg himself grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He admired Gustaf a lot and during his first years he aspired to work in the same style as his idol. Later he became one of Sweden's foremost newspaper illustrators.
Emma Miller Bolenius and Marion George Kellogg
Mother Goose, Houghton Mifflin 1929
Björn had saved some nice keepsakes from Tenggren, like photos, letters and paintings, which I was lucky enough to be able to borrow. One his dearest was a Mother Goose book that he received at a visit to Gustaf Tenggren's New York flat.
Early morning Christmas Day Mass, 1934.
Painting by Gustaf Tenggren presented to Folke Berg.
Some very nice letters from the Tenggrens are in the collection too, including this nice one, written on Disney stationery (not designed by Tenggren). Mollie is happy to announce that after Gustaf has completed his work for Pinocchio they will go on a vacation to Sweden! Unfortunately, this never happened - Gustaf Tenggren never returned to Sweden, not even to be buried, as he had wished.
Letter from Mollie Tenggren to Folke and Gertrud Berg,
December 2, 1938. 
In 1973, after Gustaf Tenggren was gone, Björn and his family went to visit Mollie in Maine and was guided around the house and got to see Gustaf's kept originals. There were piles and piles of art, all sorted and well preserved for storage.
Home and studio of Gustaf Tenggren, Dogfish Head, West Southport, Maine.
Some nice photos from the home and studio shows a tidy home with a mixture of Tenggren art and antique folk art items from Dalarna in Sweden. In the bookshelf, a yellow row of National Geographics gives a hint of Gustaf's big interest for travels. Too bad none of them included Sweden.