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Kay Nielsen - Artists in Film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 16, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment
Kay Nielsen
Kay Nielsen
was a Danish illustrator and key figure of the golden age of illustration. His art evinces the influence of ukiyo-e heavy Utagawa Hiroshige as well as Art Nouveau master Aubrey Beardsley. However, his synthesis was his own-- an instantly recognizable, highly ornate, fantastical world of pastels and light.
East of The Sun West of The Moon, old tales from the North
Nielsen was born March 12th, 1886, in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was the director of the Royal Danish Theatre. From 1904 till 1916, he studied art in Paris and London. His first professional work was providing the illustrations for In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, first published in 1913. He returned to Denmark in 1917 where he collaborated with Johannes Kay Nielsen Twelve Dancing PrincessesPoulsen in painting stage scenery at the Royal Danish Theatre. After his theater work, he returned to illustrations, providing them for several collections of fairy tales.
In 1936, Nielsen was commissioned to provide stage art for a performance of Max Reinhardt's Everyman at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1938, Poulsen died, and the following year, Nielsen and his wife, Ulla, moved to California, where he found employment at Walt Disney. There he served as art director for the “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria” segments of Fantasia. East of the Sun West of the Moon

Whilst at Disney, he also worked as a visual development artist for Little Mermaid. However, the pace and assembly line approach at Disney wore him out and he was let go in 1940. Disney intended to bring him back for a sequel to Fantasia but after the original was a box-office disappointment, plans for that film were scrapped. In 1956, his work was featured in an episode of Disneyland titled “The Plausible Impossible,” which dealt with animation techniques. The Little Mermaid was finally made into a film in 1989, although the look has little resemblance with Nielsen’s.

For the remainder of his life, he lived in poverty with most necessities provided by his friends. He occasionally painted murals around Los Angeles. His mural The First Spring originally hung at Central Junior High. After that school was demolished it was moved to John A. Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park. His illustration of the 23rd Psalm adorns the altar tablet at Wong Chapel. He died January 21st, 1957. His wife died the year after.


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1910s (17), Theater (6), Danes (1), Art Nouveau (3), Artists In Film (6), Danish Art (1), Fantasy (23), Walt Disney (8), Animation (11), 1920s (23), 1930s (19)