Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kley-Mation: The Walt Disney Family Museum to Exhibit Early Animation Influence

Jugend Titelblatt by Heinrich Kley
"Without the wonderful drawings of Heinrich Kley, I could not conduct my art school classes for my animators." --Walt Disney

Maniacal demons, dancing elephants, skating alligators.

Scenes from Disney's Fantasia? Close, but not quite.

They're all from the creative and prolific imagination of artist Heinrich Kley, a German painter and magazine illustrator whose work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was among the many notable influences for Walt Disney's young team of animators in the 1930s. Following a trip to Europe in 1935, Walt famously returned to his studio with 350 assorted books and artworks he collected on his travels, many of which were Kley's. Disney would use the material to educate and inspire his staff for decades.

In turns dark, satirical and whimsical, Kley's art depicts fantastical scenes of heavy industry and anthropomorphic animals, of nubile women and tortured high society types. His pen and ink drawings, in particular, are dense and full of movement with a vivid animated quality. Watch the Dance of the Hours or Night on Bald Mountain sequences from Fantasia and you'll see Kley's unmistakable style at play. You'll also find it in other Disney animated films including Pinocchio, Dumbo and The Jungle Book.

Dance of the Hours (l.) and Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia

Walt was an avid collector of Kley's work and, next month, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco will display 29 drawings from the collection alongside more than 25 pieces of concept art, sketches and maquettes from Disney animated films. It will be the first time Disney's Kley collection has been shown in the United States. I've already marked my calendar.

Chernobog concept art, Fantasia
The Kley exhibit will be on display from May 11 to September 17, 2012. For more information visit the Walt Disney Family Museum at www.waltdisney.org


Want to dig even deeper into the art that inspired the Walt Disney Studios? One of my favorite coffee table books is Once Upon a Time Walt Disney, a magnificent collection of Disney animation, concept drawings and the (mostly) European art that inspired it. The book contains plenty of Kley's work, as well as that of Beatrix Potter, Salvador Dali and many other accomplished names. You'll also find a wealth of material from well-known Disney artists including Mary Blair, Kay Nielsen, Claude Coats and Eyvind Earle.

Once Upon a Time Walt Disney is derived from the art exhibit of the same name that appeared in the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2006 and 2007. It's available on Amazon.

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