As it's my birthday week, it seems only fitting that I write about a recent exhibition that depicted enchanted worlds and fairytale imaginations brought to life.
Danish artist Kay Nielsen (1886-1957) is perhaps not well-known by name, but his illustrations are so vivid in detail and possibility they are instantly familiar. The MFA Boston recently exhibited Nielsen's works — showcasing illustrations he created for five books he did the artwork for, items that his illustrations have inspired, and preparatory sketches for other commissions.
While I found all of the illustrations used to market the exhibit extremely familiar, it wasn't until I saw this sketch that I realized a reason why his work seemed so recognizable.
As I made my way through each of the sketches (I actually went through the whole exhibit twice since it was s quiet Monday morning and his works deserve it), I thought back to my favorite editions of fairytale compilations growing up. My family had several storybooks filled with the common and lesser-known fairytales, all of which included beautiful illustrations. While we may or may not have one of the books Nielsen drew for, those who came after him certainly took on his style for how well they matched the images conjured in my own head when I think of these stories.
Kay Nielsen not only depicts worlds we couldn't possibly think up on our own, but does so down to the most minute detail.
Illustration to Pot of Pinks and John and the Ghosts. "The good Fairy paced her own baby in a cradle of roses and gave command to the zephyrs to carry him.." "Your soul — my soul they kept saying...according as they won or lost."'
Everything is multilayered and dazzles you. It almost makes it more real for me as I expect a make believe world to be ostentatious and so filled with multidimensional beauty and elegance I don't know where to look. And the longer you linger in front of an illustration the more you drink in of these details and how they create a whole scene. In some ways its a lovely metaphor for fairytales — you have to be willing to look with careful attention, otherwise you might miss the possibility of the magic.
While the exhibition has now closed, if you happen to chance upon a Nielsen exhibit you'll be transported to your childhood.