torsdag 22 december 2016

Merry 120th Christmas, Gustaf!

I would like to wish all readers of this blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! What better illustration is there than this great painting from Opal Wheeler's compilation of Christmas Carols from 1943: "Sing for Christmas".
Illustration for "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" from
"Sing for Christmas" by Opal Wheeler.
E.P. Dutton & Company, New York 1943.
The book may have been planned as a sequel to the much appreciated "Favorite Hymns" by Inez Bertail from 1941. A Swede of origin, Gustaf Tenggren still has skillfully captured the very special spirit of the Anglo-Saxon type of Christmas. Already in 1936, 16 years after his arrival in USA, Tenggren had became a naturalized citizen, and his illustrations had continuously grown more and more American.
Cover for "Sing for Christmas"
His interpretation was indeed as convincing as to result in yet another song book by Opal Wheeler the year after: "Sing for America" was a collection of patriotic songs that proved that Tenggren had thoroughly managed to grasp the sentiment of American cultural heritage, and to a degree that made him seem even more patriotic than the Americans themselves. 
Cover for "Sing for America" by Opal Wheeler.
E.P. Dutton & Company, New York 1944.

torsdag 3 november 2016

Happy 120th Birthday, Gustaf Tenggren!

Today, November 3rd, 1896, Gustaf Tenggren was born.
His parents Aron and Augusta Tenggren lived along with Aron's father Johan Teng in a small cottage in the parish of Magra, situated in the West of Sweden. Already in the house were four older sisters, but Gustaf was actually the sixth in order; his older brother Sigurd died from diphteria just a year after Gustaf's birth.
In 1898 the family moved to Sweden's second largest city, Gothenburg, where Gustaf grew up. In 1910, being only 14 years old he was accepted at an art school, spending six years studying art while continuously painting portraits and illustrations.
Gustaf Tenggren at 20 years a hundred years ago, while visiting
Copenhagen in 1916 along with some fellow students. 
After living for a year in Copenhagen he and his wife, Anna, left for USA in summer of 1920. Gustaf would soon gain a reputation as a skilled and productive artist and illustrator, competing with the cream of the commercial artists. His fame led to his employment by the Disney Studio 1936-1939 where he took part in a number of productions of iconic animated films, such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, along with a row of short films, many of which received Oscar awards.
Gustaf Tenggren app. 1960 in his home at Dogfish Head, Southport Island, Maine.
The house is furnished with Swedish antiques. 
When he died on April 6th, 1970, he had illustrated 50 books in USA. One of them, The Poky Little Puppy, was by the turn of the Millennium 2000 the most printed illustrated children's book in the USA ever. 

fredag 21 oktober 2016

Here they were!

Five of Gustaf Tenggren's illustrations for the
Little Golden Book "Little Black Sambo", Simon & Schuster 1948.
In the autumn of 2013 I visited Kerlan Collection at the Children's Literature Research Collection in University of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I was doing research for my biography on Gustaf Tenggren and spent a week browsing thru some fifty crates of original Tenggren artwork. I was happy to learn that the paintings for almost every book were present in the folders respectively. 
But when I came to the box containing Little Black Sambo, to my great disappointment I noticed that a number of the most important illustrations, including the wonderful cover, were gone.
So my feelings were mixed as I found out that the missing illustrations are featured at an auction by Leslie Hindman's auctioneers. I'm glad to see them alive and seemingly well preserved, but sorry that they have gone extracted from the Collection, probably while they were still in the custody of Gustaf's spouse, Mollie Tenggren.
Tenggren's version of this not uncontroversial minor classic from 1899 by missionary Helen Bannerman, was published as a Little Golden Book by Simon & Schuster in 1948. Nowadays it has since long gone out of print. Despite the content, the paintings are among Tenggren's foremost in the row of 13 Little Golden Books he made from 1942 to 1962. A true gem!

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