|Scene from "The Widow's Son"|
Kay Nielsen, 1916
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Danish-born illustrator Kay Nielsen had long been inspired by native Scandinavian tales. Even as a child, Nielsen would draw the epic Viking stories which were read aloud to him by his family. This influence naturally led to a career illustrating fairytales and nursery rhymes.
Nielsen’s work hints at the Art Nouveau. He’d studied in Paris during the height of the movement. There, he developed a trademark style which shows elements of the Art Nouveau as well as lines and patterns influenced by Japanese Art.
This 1916 image from the traditional Norse tale, “The Widow’s Son” shows Nielsen’s typical style. A work of pen and ink on paper, the illustration depicts a stylized garden occupied by a bearded man who holds a spade and flowers. He looks over his shoulder to a vision of a female face. I’m not familiar with this story, but, if you are, the inscription must make sense. It reads’ You’d best go down to the gardener.”