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Thursday, December 15, 2005


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Birth: 12 March, 1886

Death: 21 January, 1957


Illustrator, Visual Development artist, Art Director

Bio Summary

Kay Nielsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1886. He moved to London in 1911 but returned to his hometown in 1916. He worked in the theatre during World War I designing stage sets for the Theater Royal productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Aladdin. In 1924 he illustrated Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and then in 1925 he illustrated Hansel and Gretel and other Stories From the Brothers Grimm. Later on during his life he created about twenty Arabian Nights paintings,
then he was called on by Walt Disney to do some work on Fantasia. He ended up doing the “Ave Maria” and the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequences before soon he was laid off. He died of poverty in 1957.

Early Life/Family

Kay Nielsen grew up surrounded by theater. His mother, Oda Larssen, was a theater actress and his father, Martinius Nielsen was also a theater actor. Martinius soon became the managing director of the Dagmar Theater in Copenhagen. He grew up surrounded by people in the Scandanavian theater including celebrities like Ibsen, Grieg and Bjornsen.


Nielsen was born with an innate talent to create images from his mind. He left Copenhagen for a while to study intensively in Paris.

Career Outline

1913 marks the start of Kay Nielsen’s career. His first book, the Twelve Dancing Princesses was one that very fiew artists have tried to recreate. His second book, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, was probably one of his greatest masterpieces he has created. The book had fifteen Nordac Tales written by Gudrun Thorne – Thomsen, which contained an astonishing 25 watercolor paintings by Nielsen himself. Once WWI hit however, Nielsens reign of illustrations came to a hault. He returned to Copenhagen to participate in theater productions. In 1924 Nielsen attempted to revive his career by creating Han’s Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories From the Brothers Grimm in 1925. However Kay decided to go back to Copenhagen and do more Theater productions.
He staged several great productions and soon decide to get work in the animation industry. Unfortunately, after working on Fantasia designs for “Ave Maria” and “Night on Bald Mountain,” he was laid off in 1940.

Comments On Style

Kay Nielsen’s style was very whimsical and ornate, using the colors in his pastel to give off beauty that was not really achieved during that time period. Because his style was so focused in detail and pastel renderings, he tended to have a difficult time copping with the high demands of the animation industry.


Kay Nielsen was heavily influenced by Aubrey Beardsley, Burne-Jones, much of the Japanese and Persian art that had entered into the west. He also picked up the Art Nouveau style during his growth in his skills. Nielsen also had an admiration for the work of John Bauer, a Swedish fairy tale artist. In many of Nielsen’s paintings, his forests often has a close resemblance to Bauer’s work


Nielsen was a person who always had a drive to create. He was someone who was not ready to throw in the towel during bad times. Even though many have forgotten about his works, his true friends still remember him for his passion and drive.


During his younger years, Nielsen would draw what was in his head as he was being read to. He did not intend to become an artist though.


Nielsen, because he was so heavily into illustration, did not understand animation, and could not keep up with the style and pace of it. The fact that Nielsen tended to make smooth renderings in pastels, rather slowly compared to the animators he was surrounded with, he ended up being laid off after Fantasia rapped up.


Visual Development:

The Little Mermaid 1989(visual development)
Fantasia 1940(segment “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria”)


Related Links

A-HAA:Media: Kay Nielsen: East of the Sun and West of the Moon
A-HAA:Media: Kay Nielsen: Twelve Dancing Princesses
A-HAA:Media: Kay Nielsen's Hansel And Gretel,

Bibliographic References


Contributors To This Listing

Ulysses Albert III

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