Gustaf Tenggren – Disney’s chaperone to old world fairytales and illustrator in his own right

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I just got myself the new book about Gustaf Tenggren, Swedish illustrator of the forties-fifties that you probably are very familiar with. You just didn’t know it… He has illustrated many well-known Little Golden Books, as well as other fairy tales. He was very deeply rooted in Swedish and European folk tale and fairytale tradition. If you read my previous post about Swedish folk tale illustrator John Bauer you clearly see the resemblance in style and way of approaching the fairy tale genre. Link here: When Walt Disney prepared for his first full length animated film Snow White, he was wanted John Bauer to be artistic leader and add that very special Old World touch to the project. Due to Bauer’s tragic death, he instead found his conceptual artist in Gustaf Tenggren. Much of the film’s marvellous settings, and the feeling of enchanted forest embedded deep into European folklore is due to Tenggren’s soft, yet meticulous style. Homage to Gustaf Tenggren, 1896-1970. Short biography at the end of the post.   gustaf_Tenggren_4 Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-6 Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-9 disney-princess_gustaf_tenggren Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-12 Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-5 Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-15 gustaf_Tenggren_2y  Pinocchio gustaf_Tenggren_27Disney-Concept-Art-by-par-Gustaf-Tenggren-7


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Fantasia.

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Biography – Courtesy of the Gustaf Tenggren official Homepage.

Gustaf Tenggren was born on November 3, 1896 in the parish of Magra in Vastergotland, western Sweden. His parents Aron and Augusta had totally seven children and Gustaf was the second youngest of them. Gustaf ‘s father, Aron, was a painter and decorator, just like his father in turn, Johan Teng. In 1898, the Tenggren family took south for Gothenburg, as the outcome on the countryside had turned too insufficient. A one room flat in Garsa, gothenburg, became their new home were, the year after their arrival, Gustaf’s younger brother Gunnar was born. Shortly after their arrival, Gustaf’s father left the family to try tio find work in the U.S.A., and the children were to grow up without their father. Still after the move to Gothenburg, Gustaf spent his first two years at school in Magra, where he also spent the summer holidays. These years, dwelling closely to his grandfather, had a great influence on his choice of occupation later on. In the summer of 1920 Gustaf and Anna decided to leave for the United States. They arrived in New York in August, and continued on to Cleveland, Ohio where Gustafs’s two sisters had already settled.  After two yars of hard work, they moved to New York, where Gustaf’s career really took off. The twenties in New York City implied a tremendous progress for Gustaf Tenggren, both artistically and economically. In1930 he re-married to a girl of Swedish origin, Malin or Mollie Froberg, and in 1929 when the Great Depression hit the nation, they left New York for a more slow-paced life in the rural surroundings of Rhinebeck, Dutchess County in upstate New York. Here they spent five years as farmers, keeping a horse, a cow, a pig, a dog, and 40 hens, until they finally went back to New York City in 1935. In 1935 Gustaf Accepted an offer to work as a n Art Director at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which was currently under production at Walt Disney’s Studios in Los Angeles. For almost three years he painted inspirational artwork to help the layout artists to find the right mood for the actual scenes and backgrounds. His paintings had a major influence on some central scenes, such as the interiors of the dwarfs’ cottage, the queen’s laboratory, and the scenes in the woods where Snow White flees from the hunter. He also contributed to Bambi, The Ugly Duckling, Hiawatha and Fantasia. But his greatest addition was to Pinocchio which at the largest part obliged to Gustaf Tenggren for the design of environment, clothing and props. After leaving the studio in 1939, parallell to other children’s book illustratiion commissions, he started to develop book projects of his own, bearing his own trade mark, The Tenggren books.The first was The Tenggren Mother Goose and it was followed by a number of similar compilations of folk tales and traditional stories. At the same time, he began his engagement with The Golden Press, producing a series of million-selling mass market picture books, among them theWorld’s most printed, The Poky Little Puppy The later years of their lives, Mollie and Gustaf spent on the property they bought 1944 at Dogfish Head, Southport, Maine. A collection of Swedish antiques became a link to his motherland, which he never revisited. April 6th, 1970, he died from lung cancer at the local hospital in West Southport, caused by life-long smoking. Molle live for 12 more years and died in 1982. By then she had taken the means of donating the collection of Gustaf’s paintings and illustration to University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Now it’s integrated with the Kerlan Collection, one of the World’s greatest Children’s literature research centres.


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