Sunday, 27 June 2010
The Strange Odyssey of Gustav Tenggren
But it wasn't 100% a holiday as he was also keen to immerse himself in the world of European Folk Tales, as the projected feature that would ensure a lasting legacy, was already in production. Amongst the artists already working up concepts, character designs and scripting what would eventually become Disney's cinematic tour de force; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", was a European emigre Albert Hurter. Hurter who was somewhat older than the youthful contingent of twenty somethings working out of the small Disney Studio in sunny Burbank California was an ideas man pre-eminent. Hurter it was whose assimilation of European culture and inventive ideas had proved such a dynamic springboard for many of the drawings that were already fleshing out the vision that Disney carried in his head.
By this stage of his career Tenggren had been living in the U.S. for 15 years, having moved there in 1920 with his first wife Anna. Tenggren who was as driven a self promoter as he was a talented artist had managed to pick up work to the extent that the success that he had enjoyed in his native Sweden was easily eclipsed by the commissions he rapidly secured on his arrival in New York.
But as the Great Depression really started to bite, so the work began to tail off and Tenggren whose weaknesses for both drink and women, had already injected some real domestic upset into his life, resulting in his divorce from Anna who was not about to play second fiddle to Tenggren's new squeeze Mollie Froberg (another Swedish emigre) began to struggle to find a style which satisfied him aesthetically whilst being contemporary enough to please the ever fickle world of commercial art.
Much to Tenggren's pleasure trendy illustration was the last thing that the youthful Disney studio sought. They just loved all of Tenggren's old fashioned illustrations which were a seductive mix of Rackham, Bauer, Harry Clarke and other greats from the "Golden Age" of picture books.
There was however a degree of artistic hubris which was an essential part of what made Tenggren tick, and as his work on "Pinocchio" progressed this manifested itself in his signing much if not all of the work he did with a beautiful but somewhat ostentatious flourish. Which was in terms of the required anonymity of Disney studio work a definite no-no. Matters worsened when Tenggren's labor intensive concept paintings for Bambi were ditched in favor of the sublimely atmospheric paintings of Tyrus Wong.
The final cap on the Disney relationship was the apparently scandalous goings on that were rumored to have occurred on a picnic with Tenggren and the fifteen year old niece of animator Milt Kahl, whose irascible temperament was already the stuff of legend at the studio.
Tenggren left the studio shortly thereafter and in a bizarre footnote that speaks volumes about the vicissitudes of studio politics, Tenggren's name was left off the credits for "Pinocchio", the film which bore his imprint even more vividly than it's predecessor "Snow White" had done.
Tenggren's work in a weird way seemed to benefit from the experience and subsequent to his tenure with Disney he managed to re-launch himself as a very successful illustrator of children's books utilizing a much simpler and more contemporary style, the Disney connection having helped to highlight his artistry.
A strange odyssey indeed.
All images from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio © The Walt Disney Company 2010