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Classic Stories: Differing Visual Interpretations

 

Three classic stories: 'Cinderella', 'The Nutcracker' and 'Pinocchio' have been selected to show how four very different artists have interpreted the story, each in a very different way.  Roberto Innocenti has illustrated each of the stories and these have been compared and contrasted to work by Kveta Pacovská, Lizbeth Zwerger and Sara Fanelli. 

Cinderella 

'Cinderella', the `rags-to-riches' story is one of the most well-known and best-loved fairy tales by Charles Perrault. Over the years there have been many different illustrative editions with each artist bringing their own unique interpretation to the story. 

Two books that show a marked contrast of how different visual interpretations can be are the editions of 'Cinderella' by Italian artist Roberto Innocenti and Czech artist Kveta Pacovská. 

Roberto Innocenti was born in Italy in 1940 in a small town near Florence.  Never having been able to attend art school, he went to Rome to work in a film animation studio, as an illustrator for a magazine and as a designer of posters. At the age of 43 he dedicated himself solely to the illustration of children's books and his first commission was to illustrate the French version of 'Cinderella' (Cendrillon) in 1983. 

Before embarking on a piece of work Innocenti carries out research, takes photographs as well as outlining and reconstructing figures, costumes, architecture and props. His illustrations are mainly in watercolour; they have a distinct theatrical quality which gives them an unmistakable atmosphere and gravitas.

 

 

Innocenti is a master of accurate period detail. He chose to set his Cinderella in 1920s  Britain, which gave him ample opportunity to depict the fashions of the day (flapper dresses, spats, little boys in sailor outfits), the architecture of London (Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster), and the humble stone cottage where Cinderella lives with her step-mother and step-sisters.

He injects his pictures with humour and there are some playful images to look out for such as the statue outside the palace holding an umbrella; his last picture, although not an ideal image for children of today, depicting Cinderella sitting in a chair, cigarette in hand, recounting her story. 

Innocenti's vision of this timeless story has won international acclaim.  He was the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards in 2008. 

In stark contrast, Cinderella by award-winning Czech artist Kveta Pacovská's is probably the most unusual illustrated version you are likely to come across.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Born in Prague in 1928, she   studied painting and illustration at the Prague College of Fine Arts.  Throughout her long career she has drawn inspiration from artists such as Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro and the Bauhaus artists.  In the last 40 years she has published over 75 books and at least 100 national and international exhibitions have been dedicated to her works of art. 

Her art is wide-ranging from painting, graphic art and collage, to objects made of paper.  Her books can often be games that include paper-folding, flaps over passages of text, or die-cuts, all the time experimenting with the link between text and image. 

Pacovská's illustrations stimulate the senses.  Her style of using bold, saturated colour combinations in a composition of geometric and abstract shapes, including alphabets and numbers, together with collage, silver foil and tracing paper is unusual. 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Pacovská's Cinderella is experimental with a refreshingly avant-garde twist.  When illustrating a classic story such as Cinderella her intention is never to illustrate the exact text but to find a new artistic level that shows them in a different way, putting her own unique interpretation of the tale into visual terms.  In 'Cinderella' she uses a predominance of red and on some pages there is an integration of illustrations on top of the text. 

She was the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1992.

 

The Nutcracker


The Nutcracker is another classic tale that has been illustrated several times. Thanks to Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker is one of the best known stories of world literature.  However, few people realise that the ballet is actually an expansion of one small section of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann which was first published in 1819. 

The story of Herr Drosselmeyer, a maker of magical toys who gives his goddaughter Marie a nutcracker that later takes on human form transporting Marie into another world. Hoffmann's tale occasionally shows a darker side of childhood fantasies and fears where the boundaries between dream and reality are blurred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roberto Innocenti's version of The Nutcracker reflects both the joyous as well as these darker, psychological elements. His exquisite detail and sense of perspective is extraordinary, helping to create a sombre mood when dealing with the dark aspects of the story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The illustrations of Marie's dreams are eerily realistic as they are touched by a mysterious light; the characters appear wan and a little sad, and the colour is subdued, primarily shades of brown with slate blue and dusty rose hues. The portrayal of the mice is wonderful, particularly the picture of the two mice captured in a cage, with their relatives bemoaning their fate, which are so full of pathos.

 

Austrian artist Lizbeth Zwerger's evocative illustrations are more delicate with an ethereal quality reminiscent of the English illustrators of the 19th century such as Arthur Rackam.


Zwerger was born in Austria in 1954 and studied art at the Applied Arts Academy of Vienna.  She became an illustrator working mostly for Michael Neugebauer and her first book The Strange Child by E.T.A. Hoffmann was published in 1977.  


Zwerger's The Nutcracker is more surreal, delicately rendered in pen and ink and vibrant watercolor.  She has a love of classic stories and her illustrations have a romantic tendency with their soft, gentle lines and skilled use of white space that create an almost misty quality.


Zwerger was the winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award 1990.


Pinocchio


This universally well-known story of the wooden puppet carved from a piece of pine wood by Geppetto, the poor woodcarver, has been illustrated hundreds of times throughout the world with each artist bringing their own unique interpretation to this classic tale.


Carlo Collodi's classic has been given a unique makeover by Italian illustrator Sara Fanelli.  She has created a dream-like quality as well as incorporating a witty sense of street theatre which lightens the tone of the story.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Sara Fanelli was born in 1969 in Florence before coming to England where she studied at the City and Guilds of London Art School, Camberwell School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.  She has undertaken illustration work for various publications and was the winner of the 2004 National Art Library Illustration Award, Britain's premier book illustration prize for her artwork on Pinocchio.


Fanelli has a unique style.  She often uses collage; coloured backgrounds of subtle colours, such as ochre, misty blue or orangey red, from exercise books, graph paper and wallpaper. Onto these backgrounds she sticks fragments cut from photographs, pieces of fabric, music and snippets of newsprint. Different typefaces are often superimposed on top of her illustrations or used as part of a drawing. She often draws or prints in black ink on top of these collages, using doodle-like scribbles, which pull the focus of the work back from the adult world to the realms of childhood.


 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The opening page of Pinocchio is a monochrome photograph of the Italian countryside with a monument of Pinocchio standing proudly on the horizon, his long nose dominating the landscape. Every page thereafter is a burst of colour with a mix of collages, line drawings, watercolour sketches, tiny vignettes, diagrams, jokes, and scribbles. 

 

There is a vast array of diversely entertaining illustrations that include some magnificent double spreads – such as the ones of the puppet theatre and the scary puppet master, or the one featuring the fox and cat is equally complex. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fox is set against a background of a 19th-century pastoral scene whilst the cat is set against a background of a contemporary landscape photomontage. Both the fox and the cat are larger than life collage figures that come across as incredibly sinister.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

The picture of Pinocchio burying his gold coins in the Field of Miracles is also clever. Set out as a piece of film it suggests movement and the passage of time in the small sequence of cartoon-like vignettes. 


The final picture of Pinocchio as a real boy is shown as an old sepia formal portrait photograph of a very solemn little boy in his Sunday best.  He poses rather woodenly and the symbolism of the gnarled tree trunk that he stands beside will not be lost on the reader.


  

 

By Contrast, Roberto Innocenti's hauntingly, breath-taking illustrations set in the Florentine region of the nineteenth century portray a world where reality and fantasy are combined.  The intricate detail and exceptional clarity show the atmosphere of Florence, the bustle of Italian street life and the beauty and isolation of the countryside.  His almost photo-like illustrations with their unusual perspective, as well as the striking traces of grey and brown colour are captivating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  


Both the pathos and the humour are captured in equal measure as Pinocchio lurches from one crisis to another.  Each picture ignites the imagination bringing the legendary puppet alive.

 

The New York Times called Pinocchio "a masterpiece of illustration" and there is certainly no question it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Deborah Hallford
Outside In World, 2012

 

Bibliography

Cinderella, Charles Perrault, illustrated, Roberto Innocenti, Creative Editions (2002) 

Cinderella, Charles Perrault, translated, Anthea Bell, illustrated, Kveta Pacovská, Minedition, 2010)
The Nutcracker, E.T.A Hoffmann, Illustrated, Roberto Innocenti, Jonathan Cape (1997) 
The Nutcracker, E.T.A Hoffmann, illustrated, Lizbeth Zwerger, Translated, Anthea Bell, Neugebauer Press (1983)
Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, translated, Emma Rose, illustrated, Sara Fanelli, Walker Books (2003)
The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, translated, E. Harden, illustrated, Roberto Innocenti, Jonathan Cape (1988)

 

All images used in this article are from the front and back covers of the above books.

 

For a PDF version of this article click below.

Classic Stories Interpretations

 

 

 

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