Monday, 26 October 2009

The ultimate modern Kay Nielsen edition

This is going to be my Christmas present! YAY!

You can read more about the Folio Society reprint here (my copy wasn't $350). I have copies of all the other reprints, and a few others, but my copy of "Hansel & Gretel" (the 1984 UK reprint) was one of the 350 limited edition leather bound copies, with slipcases. The green leather limited edition reprint isn't a true facsimile, as the original binding wasn't green (blue pops into my head but that might be wrong - I need to consult my art college dissertation for more info). It cost £35 in 1984 - about 3 weeks living allowance for a student back then.

"East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is Danish illustrator Kay Neilsen's most beautiful book. Only his illustrations for "The Thousand and One Nights" are in quite the same league, and that book was never published.

I wrote a dissertation about Nielsen's designs when I was at art college in 1983. Researching his work wasn't so easy then - now, at the click of a Google search, you can find all the images you want online. Try doing that and you will see how wonderful and mysterious his images are.

After his career as a book illustrator and as a stage designer (in Copenhagen) he moved to the USA in the late 1930s, where he worked for Disney, designing the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence for "Fantasia", among other things. He was working on designs for "The Little Mermaid" when there was industrial action at Disney in (if I remember right) 1942. He was involved in this and Disney saw to it that he never got any work in Hollywood again and the project was shelved, although his name appeared in the end credits when "The Little Mermaid" was finally released c.1990. Nielsen spent the last years of his life in relative poverty, working on several large mural commissions, including one for a church in LA, for Whitman College and for an LA high school. When I was working on my dissertation, I had little more than the names of these colleges and the church to go on, and back then no way to find out more, so I wrote letters with as much of an address as I could assemble, and they all reached their destinations! A wonderful LA resident, Elva Bess Cook, then in her eighties, who had known the Nielsens in the 1940s and 50s, sent me photographs and wrote to me about them. Biographical info online here.

A first edition of "East of the Sun.." in the white vellum binding isn't going to be an option unless I have a big lottery win (and one of the 500 1914 copies surfaces for sale!) so I am so pleased to have the Folio edition on my shelf. It will be staying shrink wrapped until Christmas day though!

Just in case I suddenly had a few thousand pounds spare, here are a couple of links to copies for sale -

No. 138

No. 127 - looks like this is in better condition. The vellum binding tends to discolour...

Peter Harrington Books also has two sets of the copper printing plates for sale!!!!! For some reason, the photo have got mixed up with the plate listings for "In Powder and Crinoline", Nielsen's first published illustration project.

"So the man gave him a pair of snow shoes..."

Also this edition - I have a copy of this one, bought in 1984 for £11. Not quite such good condition however. I have always suspected that the cover illustration was redrawn by another artist, since it is almost a "cut and paste" from at least two other illustrations in the book, but without the detail in the originals.

A very good value reprint is available from Dover books (I bought this one last year, a reprint from the 1920 George H.Doran Company, New York, edition) and there is one copy of the Folio edition on ...

UPDATE - there's another Folio Society copy on eBay at the moment, though it is bit more than mine cost and it isn't still sealed - worth a look.

1 comment:

Rosalind said...

I am pea green with envy!
Works to treasure!