What the first little mermaid Ariel looked like, and why its author died in poverty, although he worked for Disney
What the first little mermaid Ariel looked like, and why its author died in poverty, although he worked for Disney
Magically illustrated by Kai Nielsen

Many artists know how to illustrate fairy tales, but few can turn each illustration into a separate fairy tale, which can be viewed endlessly, as if you were bewitched. One of these wizards of the brush was the Danish Kai Rasmus Nielsen. A child who happened to look at his princesses, heroes, trolls and sorceresses with his mother in the evening forever retains the feeling of touching a fairy tale.

Probably, little Kai was promised a career in the theater, because his mother Oda was an actress, and his father Martinus was a director. The Nielsen family lived in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark; at the end of the nineteenth century, Denmark, like all of Europe, adored theaters, so the Nielsen's needs were not known. Moreover, the mother shone on the stage not only with her husband at the Dagmar Theater, but also at the Royal Danish Theater. But Kai chose to become an artist. As a youth, he went to Paris to study first at the Julian Academy (the same where he studied Russian artist Maria Bashkirtseva), then at the Accademia Colarossi.

Self-portrait of Kai Nielsen and one of his first illustrations

After France, Nielsen went to England, the homeland of Pre-Raphaelite artists. There he first received an order to illustrate fairy tales. 24 color and 15 black-and-white drawings by Nielsen decorated the book “Powder and crinoline. Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Qwilleran-Kuch. Nielsen's pictures are typical Art Nouveau drawings, they are sweet and sophisticated, imbued with the spirit of 1913.

In the same year, the Christmas edition of the Illustrated London News published Nielsen's illustrations for Charles Perrault's fairy tales: Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Cinderella and Bluebeard.

Kai Nielsen, illustration for "Bluebeard" Kai Nielsen, Cinderella dancing with the prince

In 1914, Nielsen illustrated a collection of Norwegian folk tales "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". Fairy tales inspire him in earnest, the harsh beauty of the Scandinavian North appears through the pan-European Art Nouveau. The book was published in a circulation of 500 copies, in a gold-embossed cover, with 25 color and 21 black and white drawings. At auctions, surviving copies start at $ 8,000.

Norwegian Tales from Kai Nielsen Norwegian Tales from Kai Nielsen Norwegian Tales from Kai Nielsen Norwegian Tales from Kai Nielsen Norwegian Tales from Kai Nielsen

In the same year, he creates three illustrations for the story about the life of Jeanne d'Arc, which will be published much later, in 1920. In the meantime, the artist is studying from local colleagues a new drawing technique, tempera.

Burning of Joan of Arc, drawing by Kai Nielsen

In 1917, Nielsen visited the United States with his own exhibition of drawings, after which he finally returned to his homeland. In Copenhagen, he is working on the stage design for the Royal Danish Theater and, in parallel, on illustrations for the new translation of 1000 and 1 Nights. All this - against the backdrop of the First World War tearing Europe apart.

Bye Maria Curie She traveled along the front line, teaching military doctors to use a mobile X-ray machine to examine the wounded, the Danes remained neutral - Nielsen's peace was not disturbed in any way. Illustrations for "1000 and 1 Nights" were published only after the death of the artist. Probably, for the beginning of the twentieth century, they turned out to be too frivolous to see the light: they were full of naked peri.

Thousand and One Nights Thousand and One Nights Thousand and One Nights Thousand and One Nights

In 1924, Nielsen took up the illustrations of the fairy tales of the most famous Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen. A year later, he creates drawings for the next edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Then the artist takes up the book of the British woman Romer Wilson - a collection of fairy tales from the peoples of the world. Slavic tales are also there.The Russian reader may be greatly surprised by Nielsen's illustrations - the artist had never been to the Slavic countries and drew costumes and characters very freely.

Kai Nielsen, illustration for the collection Wilson Kai Nielsen, illustration for the collection Wilson

Meanwhile, a magical meeting took place in his life. Kai marries a girl named Ulla, a sweet fashionista from a wealthy Danish family, with whom she will live her entire life until death separates them. She may have served as a model for some of his heroines.

Drawing by Kai Nielsen

In 1939, Nielsen dramatically changes his career. He moves with his family to California to work for Hollywood. The glory of theaters is a thing of the past, the future belongs to films. He collaborates with Walt Disney himself, participating in the creation of the musical animated film Fantasy. He also creates concept art for many Disney works, including, of course, the cartoon based on Andersen's fairy tales - which, alas, never saw the light of day. Nevertheless, Nielsen's concept art lay in the archives of the studio and came in handy when working on the cartoon about Ariel, released in 1989. And Nielsen ended his collaboration with Disney in 1941 and returned home.

Future Ariel by Kai Nielsen Future Ariel by Kai Nielsen

With the outbreak of World War II, the world has changed a lot. Art Nouveau has lost its charm in the eyes of most of humanity. Children were no longer interested in fairy tales, they wanted tales of war and victory. Nielsen went out of style. He left for Los Angeles and spent the rest of his life in poverty, painting the walls of schools and churches.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Ballerina from Andersen's Tale The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep from Andersen's Tale Kai and Gerda from Andersen's fairy tale

Kai died in 1957, having lived a fairly long life - 71 years. Ulla survived him by only a year. It was only over time that the world realized that Kai Nielsen, along with Jon Bauer and Karl Olof Larsson, is one of the most fascinating artists in Scandinavia.

And the modern Brazilian artist creates magical applique illustrations based on cartoons… It turns out just fine!

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