Kay Rasmus Nielsen was a Danish illustrator who was popular in the early 20th century, the 'Golden Age of Illustration'.
He was born in Copenhagen on March 12, 1886. His future artistic career was not much of a surprise: his parents were artists, even though they were active in the performing arts. His mother, Oda Nielsen, was one of the most celebrated actresses of her time, both at the Royal Danish Theater and at the Dagmarteater (of which father Nielsen was director). Aged 18, he moved to Paris to study art, then lived in England in 1911. Two years after, he received his first commissions for illustrating fairytales: he provided a total of 39 illustrations for In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and was also commissioned by The Illustrated London News to produce a set of four illustrations to accompany the tales of Charles Perrault in their Christmas edition.
Illustrations for Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Cinderella and Bluebeard, for the Illustrated London News, 1913.
Shortly before World War I, Nielsen produced the images he is probably most known for today: 25 colour plates and over 20 monotone images for Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Coloured illustrations for East of the Sun and West of The Moon, 1917.
Nielsen also created non-book-related paintings and landscapes, and in 1917, an exhibition of his work was held in New York. He returned to Denmark to paint stage scenery for the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen (with his parents both actors, he couldn’t stay away from the theatre forever).
After WWI, he returned to book illustrations and worked on illustrations for a translation of The Arabian Nights, but those were never published during his lifetime. During the 1920s, he stayed true to fairy tales, and illustrated collections of both fairy tales by his countryman Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
Concept Art for the segment 'Night on the Bald Mountain' for Disney's Fantasia, 1940a
Nielsen moved to California shortly before WWII and worked for Hollywood companies. He was recommended to Walt Disney, who hired him to work on Fantasia, Disney’s third animated feature film consisting of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music. Nielsens work was used in the Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria. He contributed artwork for many other Disney movies, including concept paintings for a proposed adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid – which wasn’t used until the release of the film in 1989 though.
Concept Art for Disney's The Little Mermaid
Even though he worked on the feature film Sleeping Beauty for Disney again, his final years were spent in poverty. His last works were for local schools and churches, including his painting to the Wong Chapel at the First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, illustrating the 23rd Psalm. He eventually died, after having contracted a chronic cough, on June 21, 1957. His funeral service was held under his own mural in the Wong Chapel.
Here are his beautiful illustrations for H.C. Andersens Fairy Tales:
... and lastly, those for Grimm's collections of fairy and folktales: