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.
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 Poulsen 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.