Fantasy Imaginaries and Landscapes of Desire: Gustaf Tenggren’s Forgotten Decades
Gustaf Tenggren (1896–1970) was a 20th-century Swedish-born American illustrator of children’s books, magazines, advertisements, and artwork for the Disney Studio. Tenggren’s work was so ubiquitous that it remains in circulation and widely recognized today. But this large body of work has been understudied, as has its impact on the popular imagination. This article revisits Tenggren’s long career, and reinserts periods often skipped over, such as his work in magazine advertising during the 1920s and 1930s, and argues that although Tenggren is most often referred to as a children’s book and fairy-tale illustrator, his style was developed in the commercial field of magazine advertising, which incorporated aspects of modern art. That is, those aspects of modernism – abstraction, attention to form, the bright use of color for emotional impact – that were so much a part of fin de siècle Europe, a time when Tenggren was in art school, were appropriated first by advertising in America, and then by children’s book illustration. Thus, in the process, modernism was translated and democratized for middle-class consumers.
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