Kay Nielsen: Illustrations

This isn’t exactly about cover art, though some of Kay Nielsen’s drawings have graced the covers of picture books and storybook anthologies. Nielsen is an acclaimed illustrator from the earlier part of the 20th century.

I’ve had a copy of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, illustrated by Nielsen, since childhood. I was intrigued by his style and wanted to see more of his work after I revisited the book this week. This led to an overly long time spent researching folktale illustrations (hey, I guess that would be useful for publishing…?), especially Norwegian ones.

I’m half Norwegian, and have found myself very interested in my roots lately. Nielsen is Danish, but he has done plenty of work on Norwegian folktales. He died in poverty–a sad ending for someone so talented. I find it discouraging that so many creative visionaries find themselves in less than desirable circumstances at their deaths (with notable exceptions, of course, such as Walt Disney).

What’s even more discouraging is that this book now sells for near $40,000, and the author sees none of the profits (well, that would be hard since he’s been dead for years, but you know what I mean).

Here’s a nice biography of the illustrator. And here’s a link to the online version of the book, posted by Project Gutenberg . Gotta love them.

Some illustrations from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, published 1914 by Hodder & Stoughton:

“'Well, mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing to fear,' said the Bear, so she rode a long, long way." --East of the Sun, West of the Moon
"Then he coaxed her down and took her home." --The Lassie and her Godmother
"And then she lay on a little green patch in the midst of the gloomy thick wood." -- East of the Sun, West of the Moon
The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain
“'You’ll come to three Princesses, whom you will see standing in the earth up to their necks, with only their heads out.'” --The Three Princesses of Whiteland

And an illustration not from the collection:

Nielsen's sketch for the Little Mermaid (Disney)

Now, finally, the actual book. The original edition from 1914:

Folio released a new edition of the book in 2000.

My version (1977, Dover):

Apparently it’s worth around $200…I guess we’ll be keeping that one. Maybe in the year 2050 we’ll be able to sell the book as an artifact.

Thanks for reading! Cheers!

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