Last year a beautiful and interesting book was published about the swedish born illustrator Gustaf Tenggren. He lived most of his life in USA and had a great career, including working for Disney, making ads and magazine covers, drawing some of the most sold Little Golden Books and producing lots of lovely childrens books. But in Sweden he has been almost unknown to people. And I can only hope, like the authors of the book, Lars Emanuelsson and Oskar Ekman, that he will be more publicly known now with this book.
Gustaf Tenggren was born 1896 in a poor family, but was lucky to be able to study art. First at Slöjdföreningens school and after that at art school Valand, both in Göteborg in Sweden. He also took commissions during his study years and soon got a really prestige project; to follow the steps of the very popular swedish illustrator John Bauer, drawing beautiful fairytales with gnomes, trolls and princesses for ”Bland tomtar och troll” in the 20s.
1920 he took the boat to America and never returned back. And for the rest of his life he worked really hard illustrating for both children and adults. He was the illustrator for around 60 books!
1936 Gustaf Tenggren started working at the Disney Studio and he was part of making the ”look and feel” for the movies Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia.
In the 40s and 50s he worked intensivly with childrens books again, among them ”The Poky Little Puppy”, the most sold picture childrens book in America! He also did many more picture books in the famous Little Golden Books. (In Sweden translated to ”FIB:s Gyllene böcker”.)
Tenggren died 1970 and most of his drawings can now be found at Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.I really enjoyed this biography book and learned a lot, since I too was one of those who never had heard of him before.
The book is filled with astonishing drawings, and it is obvious that he was extremely talented and put a lot of effort in to every detail in every picture. I personally like his early fairytail drawings from the 20s the most. Like ”The red fairy book” from 1924.
It is just one strange thing I thought about after looking thru it all, his figures almost never seek ”contact” with the reader. They close their eyes, or the eyes are very thin and pale painted, or almost empty like they are not really there… Interesting…. And to me that makes the images, as a group, not so emotionally touching, they feel a bit distant. But that is a very subjective opinion. And I love and admire his drawings, and absolutely recommend this book to everyone interested in illustration.
”Gustaf Tenggren – en biografi”
Lars Emanuelsson and Oskar Ekman
Kartago förlag, 2014
You can read a lot more about Gustaf Tenggren at Lars Emanuelson blog!