Gustaf Tenggren is considered by many to be the leading children’s book illustrator of the 20th century, creating the images for one of the most popular story books of all time, The Poky Little Puppy, which has sold in some 15 million copies, since it first appeared in print in 1942. Tenggren made his mark, as well, in film animation. When Walt Disney wanted to add a touch of Old World gravitas to his first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he hired the Swedish-born artist in 1936 to work on the mood-defining forest scenery and cottage interiors. Tenggren also designed the backgrounds for another landmark Disney film, Pinocchio. After Tengren left the Disney studios in 1939, he devoted himself to illustrating children’s publications in successful collaboration with Golden Books.
Tenggren experimented with a variety of artistic styles in a career spanning six decades. His early studies in watercolor over elaborate ink drawings show the influence of Art Nouveau. Tenggren later adopted a simplified, almost Cubist style, working in tempera or simply sketching outlines in black crayon and India ink to be filled in with blended four color ink at the printers.
Tenggren did not often depict religious subjects, but the illustrations he made for The Christ Story for Boys and Girls and The New Illustrated Book of Favorite Hymns are worthy of the attention of sacred art pilgrims in their beautiful Art Deco-era styling. Tenggren uses negative space in The Three Wisemen and Rock of Ages to create imagery both spare and elegant. Yet, he is equally skilled in rendering the sinuous contours of drapery and landscape, creating vibrant silhouettes with contrasting color planes in Hark! Hark, My Soul! and O Little Town of Bethlehem.