While we’re still on our virtual visit to Sweden for yesterday’s post about Anders Zorn, we should stop by and say hi to John Bauer, a dramatically underappreciated fantasy artist.
Looking at Bauer’s wonderfully caricaturish trolls and gnomes, his glowing young princesses and his dark forests of ancient trees, their roots intertwined in Art Nouveau grace, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Bauer adopted many of the stylistic elements associated with the great illustrators that embody that approach, like Arthur Rackam, Kay Neilsen and Edmund Dulac.
In fact, the influence probably runs in the opposite direction, or at the very least in both directions. Bauer slightly predates Rackham, Neilsen and Dulac and, while he was undoubtedly influenced by them, his style and subject matter also likely informed much their work and, through them, influenced subsequent generations of fantasy artists.
Bauer himself was likely exposed to the work of Anders Zorn, who was popular in Sweden at the time, but was probably also influenced by Symbolist painters like Arnold Böcklin, visionaries like Gustav Moreau and William Blake and the stylized work of the Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau artists, and perhaps the graceful illustration style of Walter Crane.
Bauer achieved prominence in Sweden with his illustrations for Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Elves and Trolls), a yearly published book of fairy tales, and illustrated other books and periodicals. His wonderfully stylized drawing style, fascinating experiments with composition and his uncanny ability to make his fairy tale subjects simultaneously dark and elegantly charming have made him a favorite among those familiar with his work.
There is a John Bauer Museum site, which I think refers to a physical museum as well as the online one, but I’m unsure.
It’s unfortunate that books of fairy tales for which he did his illustrations were not widely translated into English. Had they been, Bauer would be as familiar as Rackham.