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Art Passions Fairy Tale Illustrations by Swedish Artist and Illustrator John Bauer

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John Bauer Art and Illustration

Lucia, John Bauer About John Bauer: John Bauer was born in Jonkoping, Sweden, in 1882, the third of four children born to Emma and Joseph Bauer. The loss of his sister Anna, two years his senior, who died when John was only 11, which affected his family very much. At 16, John went to Stockholm to begin his art studies. After two years, he was accepted at The Royal Academy of Art, where Classical Art classes, Anatomy, Perspective, and History of Art lectures comprised seven lecture hours, with overtime and drawing assignments at home. There he met his wife, Esther, whom he married in December, 1906. Esther was the model for The Fairy Princess and many of his later illustrations. In the spring of 1908, John and Esther traveled to Italy, settling in a villa above Volterra. They stayed in Italy for nearly two years. Bauer was stricken by the beauty of 14th century works he found in the museum of Naples, causing him to say "I notice more and more, that it is from the oldest and most primitive artists that one must learn to become an artist oneself".

The details of John Bauer's work are accurate -- Bronze Age axes and medieval ironwork. The costumes in his fairy tales are modeled from books in found in the Royal Library. In 1904, he was commissioned to do a book about Lappland and spent a summer following the Lapps on their migrations. Some of the details of their dress are included in the costumes of his trolls.

(Note: The nomadic people followed by Bauer were called "Lapps" at the time he visited them, as well as in the areas I visited in northern Norway as a child. Today, these people prefer to be called "Sami" and consider the term "Lapp" pejorative. It's an easy enough request to honor but since the historical term in English is "Lapp" and is better known, I use "Lapp" here for the purpose of using a known term in place of a perhaps more correct but unknown one.)

His most famous work, the illustrations to the first of eight volumes of Bland tomtar och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls), a collection of fary tales written by Swedish authors, was published in 1907. It was hugely successful. In the early volumes, the illustrations were printed in grey tones only, sometimes with yellow color added. In the later volumes we find the famous examples of his mature work: Princess Tuvstarr and Skutt the moose against the twilight sky. In the later volumes, his illustrations were printed in color.

In 1915, he resigned from the commission to illustrate BTT because he wanted to take his art in a different direction. He painted Adam and Eve, a fresco of St. Martin, a large oil painting on canvas, Freja. He suffered from depression, and doubted his abilities and purpose. By 1918, his marriage was on the rocks, divorce was being discussed, and the world was at war. The country house at Bjorkudden was too remote for Esther and a new home was built in Stockholm with assistance from John's father. Esther and John, and their two-year old son, Bengt or Putte, hoped to start a new life in the new home in Stockholm. John distrusted trains and insisted that they return by ferry, but the Per Brahe capsized in stormy weather and all aboard drowned..

Also see John Bauer Catalog by Book

Princess Tuvstarr and the Fishpond

Princess Tuvstarr is one of several illustrations done in 1913 for the book Princess Tuvstarr and the Fishpond. The images is of Princess Tuvstarr sitting by the pool looking for her heart from The story of Skutt the Moose (Leap the Elk in the English Translation)and Princess Tuvstarr (Cottongrass).

Have you ever been in a large forest and seen a strange black lake hidden deep among the tall trees? It looks bewitched and a little frightening. All is still - fir trees and pines huddle close and silent on all sides. Sometimes the trees bend cautiously and shyly over the water as if they are wondering what may be hidden in the dark depths. There is another forest growing in the water, and it, too, is full of wonder and stillness. Strangest of all, never have the two forests been able to speak to each other....

Princess Tuvstarr (Princess Cottongrass), a girl with long wavy blonde hair, slips away from the Dream Castle to meet Leap the Elk, a strong, loyal, and protective creatures who carries the princess into the world on his powerful back after the princess pleads to take her with him:

'How big and stately you are. You have a crown, too. Let me come with you. Let me sit behind your neck, and then carry me out into life.' The elk hesitates. 'The world is big and cold, little child, and you are so small. The world is full of evil and wickedness, and it will hurt you.' 'No, no. I am young and warm. I have warmth enough for everyone. I am small and good, and want to share the good that I have.' 'Princess, the forest is dark and the roads are dangerous.' 'But you are with me. You are great and strong, and can easily defend us both.'"

Thus, the strong and wise elk carries the innocent and vulnerable Princess on his back out into the world. At first, all is well and the princess is delighted with what she sees on her journey. But, the princess is vulnerable and dangers from the dark forest lurk everywhere and, little by little, rob the princess of her innocence. At some point in the journey, she finds herself naked, robbed of her fine white gown. The elk watches over her vulnerable naked body as she sleeps under the stars at night. He becomes anxious, worried that his strength and wisdom will not be sufficient to protect the little princess.

"He seems to want to move on, and bends down to let the princess climb on his back. Then they are gone in a rush, galloping east. He hardly hears when she calls to him, and rarely answers. As if in a fever he breaks through the tangled forest at a furious rate. 'Where are we going?' asks Princess Cottongrass. 'To the pool,' is the answer. 'Deep in the forest is a pool, and that is where I go when autumn is coming. No person has ever been there, but you shall see it.'"

The elk warns her to be careful of the danger in the water, to watch her golden heart chain around her neck. But, the princess, mesmerized by the dark shining water bends forward for a closer look and the golden heard slips over her head and drops in the pool. 'Oh, my heart, the golden heart that my mother gave me the day I was born. Oh, what shall I do?' She is inconsolable and wanders over the tussocks to look for her heart. The elk warns her 'It is dangerous for you here. Looking for one thing, you will forget everything else.'

But, the princess wants to stay to find her heart. She gently strokes the elk and kisses his bent head. 'Then, small and slim and undressed, she goes and sits down on a grassy hillock. For a long time the elk stands quite still and looks at the small girl. But when she no longer seems to notice that he is there, he turns and disappears with hesitant steps into the forest.'

"Many years have passed. Still Princess Cottongrass sits and looks wonderingly into the water for her heart. She is no longer a little girl. Instead, a slender plant, crowned with white cotton, stands leaning over the edge of the pool. Now and then the elk returns, stops, and looks at it tenderly. Only he knows that this is the princess from Dream Castle. Perhaps she nods and smiles, for he is an old friend, but she does not want to follow him back; she cannot follow any more, as long as she is under the spell. The spell lies in the pool. Far, far under the water lies a lost heart."

Still Princess Cottongrass sits and looks wonderingly into the dark depths of the water.

Bland Tomtar och Troll 1915

Bland Tomtar och Troll 1915

Bland Tomtar och Troll 1915


Coronation of the Sea King mural

John Bauer Illustrations by Book

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