Saturday, August 24, 2019

Museums and Books: Museum of Fine Arts Boston-Kay Nielsen's Genius

After a long period of quiet, I have finally found the inspiration to start blogging about all things books, again!  I am currently in the middle of the Johns Hopkins University, Museum Studies, Master's Degree Program and hope to earn my degree sometime next year, 2020.  I have been focused on all things museums since Fall 2019 and with every passing week I struggled to figure out a way to begin posting about books again.  I found the needed inspiration and hopefully will sustain the effort to grow this series of posts under the main title of Museums and Books.

I begin with a focus on a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston on celebrated illustrator and book artist, the late, Kay Nielsen, 1886-1957.  

Kay Nielsen’s Enchanted Vision

The Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection

July 20, 2019–January 20, 2020

Clementine Brown Gallery (Gallery 170)

This exhibition has captured my attention for a variety of reasons, from my interest in books alone and books within the museum.  The origin of this exhibition is a wonderful example of the inner workings of museums as they pursue the eternal quest to add to their collections. This exhibition is associated with a promised commitment to donate the collection to the Museum of Fine Arts, at a later date.  Displaying the art is a common effort on the part of the museum to make concrete the promised, future gift.  By exhibiting the items each element will be studied and conserved by the museum in anticipation of the accessioning of the items to the museum collections. covered the launch of the exhibition in July of 2019 and the opening sentences provide a solid overview of the exhibition.

BOSTON, MASS.- More than a century ago, Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen (1886–1957) created exquisite interpretations of classic fairy tales that remain some of the most memorable visions of enchantment and fantasy ever to appear in print. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is celebrating the artist with Kay Nielsen’s Enchanted Vision: The Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection, featuring nearly 50 of his luminous and often haunting watercolors and drawings—including many of his remarkable illustrations for East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Old Tales from the North. The exhibition marks the first time that such a large group of Nielsen’s original works, both published and unpublished, has been on public display in the U.S. in more than six decades. These highlights of Nielsen’s career—promised gifts to the MFA from collectors Kendra and Allan Daniel—give visitors a rare opportunity to study and appreciate the work of this visionary artist. Kay Nielsen’s Enchanted Vision is on view from July 20, 2019 through January 20, 2020 in the Clementine Brown Gallery. Supported by the Cordover Exhibition Fund, and the Benjamin A. Trustman and Julia M. Trustman Fund. Hotel partner is the Mandarin Oriental, Boston. ("MFA Boston celebrates Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen with exhibition of nearly 50 rarely seen, original works," (ArtDailey.Com retrieved from )

Kay Nielsen remains a beloved illustrator and his published illustrations remain classic examples of early to mid, 20th Century, book illustration.  In Nielsen's case, thanks to the efforts of Taschen and others, he work is widely available and is a must have for anyone interested in the history of book illustration.  East of the Sun and West of the Moon, originally published in 1914 by Hodder & Stoughton, London contains amazing watercolor illustrations enlivening this collection of Norwegian Folk Tales.  There were 500 copies of a special first edition, numbered, printing that now cost somewhere around $20,000, and released along with a general edition that now will cost somewhere around $15,000.  Luckily, for those of us with more modest book budgets, the Taschen edition is reasonably priced at $40.00 and most likely discounted at your favorite online book site.

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Visit Taschen to view the book details
Illustration is a fine art form that is always evolving and growing in importance.  The key thing to remember about illustration is that the original work of art is created and optimized for reproduction.  Illustration art is not exclusive to book publishing and is critically important for advertising, promotional materials, movie and stage design and while I have yet to grasp the potential for original illustrations for  website design, it is only a matter of time before original art is commissioned specifically for website design.  Kay Nielsen is, without a doubt, a grand-master of the art and his contributions to book illustration will endure.  If you need any more insight to encourage more investigation into his oeuvre, consider that he is the artist behind A Night on Bald Mountain, a favorite animation/segment from Disney's classic,  Fantasia!

I have yet to visit the MFA exhibition but will make my way to Boston before Fall Semester begins to visit in person.  The exhibit promises 50 original, primarily watercolor, illustrations, from Nielsen along with a hint of the impact Nielsen's artwork can have for textile design.  In 2016 the noted fashion master, Karl Lagerfeld crafted a couture collection for Fendi inspired by Nielsen's illustrations for East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Acquire a copy of the classic book with Nieslsen's illustrations and compare to the Lagerfeld designs.  A great example of fine art and book illustration impacting couture culture!

Fendi Legends and Fairytales Fall Winter Collection 2016
From Design Scene