- The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Noel Daniel
Silhouettes traverse this book. Like Peter Pan’s shadow, they draw the reader-viewer into a nostalgic neverland of ancient tales and illustrations that, editor Noel Daniel hopes, will never grow old. The book’s virtue lies less in retranslating the famous tales than in resuscitating their lesser known illustrations by famous artists from the 1850s to the 1950s. Illustrating the brothers’ tales, Daniel explains, had become a rite of passage for graphic artists. Her selection provides a superb overview of the evolution of popular art, finding in the Grimms’ tales an ideal point of anchorage. Although attention has clearly been given to retranslation by Matthew Price, it is doubtlessly the spotlighted illustrations that constitute the book’s raison d’être. Following the tales, a helpful appendix offers more than biographical information about the selected artists: Daniel’s meticulous contextualization of each illustrator is in itself an art history lesson. This is, therefore, a book for art lovers, full of captivating information about the artists and their works; and this amply compensates for the arguably less enthralling attempts at textual analysis.
Physically—unsurprisingly for Taschen—the object-book is a delight. Lush, heavy, fabric-bound, it is the ideal reliquary for the vibrant art it enshrines and has immediate aesthetic appeal. Although today’s children may not relate to it as much as Daniel wishes, there is no elitism of form or content in this extremely reader-friendly book. The unobtrusive underlying argument is that an illustration is an interpretation. From sylvan wildernesses to tamer domesticity, artists translate contemporary aesthetic tastes, political stances, and conceptions of narrative. Sir Walter Crane’s 1874 “Frog Prince,” which opens the collection, fascinatingly reintegrates the story within the noble world of imperial Britain. Home-bred orange trees in Chinese pots, cornucopias, black servants, and tropical fruit nourish the symbolic glorification of an empire that culminates with the Prince, his tunic splattered with sunflowers evoking a kingdom on which the sun never sets. Imbued with ideology yet retaining aesthetic appeal, these illustrations invade the interpretive gaps, allowing worldviews to blossom.
From delicate lithographs to Art Nouveau aesthetics, the reader’s eye leapfrogs between graphic identities. Earlier works are stiffer, precious, composed, idyllically imbued with Golden Age rurality but also with sociopolitical commentary. Gustav Sus’s 1855 “class war” treatment of “The Hare and the Hedgehog” is a treasure of early caricature art. More spiritual, Otto Specker’s 1857 “Rapunzel” distills, through careful cross-hatching and high-angle shots, a beautiful Christian symbolism. Fedor Flinkzer’s 1881 lithographs for “Little [End Page 130] Brother and Little Sister” display the semantics of contour and framing. The ornate frames, composed of tenderly intertwined branches, provide freer symbols of the children’s love than the stricter images they enclose.
Readers might be surprised by the modernity—or the postmodernity—of later artistic styles. Heinrich Leutemann’s rich 1883 treatment of “The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats” accumulates panels, pinned and nailed together in trompe l’oeil and bleeding outside their frames, where they mingle with realistic flowers. The result recalls postmodern wordless comics, asking the reader for astute visual literacy. Rudolf Geissler’s endearing 1892 broadside for “The Bremen Town Musicians” displays similar enthusiasm for the narrative power of the wordless pictures, aptly rendering the tale’s slapstick nature.
Tales of female maturation permit noteworthy creative freedom. Herbert Leupin, with proto-psychedelic colors, celebrates the excesses of adolescent passion in his 1948 “Sleeping Beauty,” the bold pink skies against black thorns adding playful eroticism to a mature reading while remaining child-friendly. Wanda Zeigner-Ebel’s 1920 illustrations of “Snow White,” influenced by Russian and Asian arts, are an ode to adolescence. Splendidly rendered on a double spread and choosing to sidestep the Grimms’ gruesomeness, the glass casket, surrounded by floral patterns, signals Zeigner-Ebel’s interpretation of the tale as a story of female maturation, a romance. The jubilatory plasticity of the tales surfaces again: an illustration is an interpretation.
Arguably, not all...