Gustaf Tenggren

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In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Tenggren's presentation drawing depicts the major characteristics of each of the seven dwarfs.

Gustaf Adolf Tenggren (November 3, 1896 – April 9, 1970) was a Swedish-American illustrator. He is known for his Arthur Rackham-influenced fairy-tale style and use of silhouetted figures with caricatured faces. Tenggren was a chief illustrator for The Walt Disney Company in the late 1930s, in what has been called the Golden Age of American animation, when animated feature films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Bambi and Pinocchio were produced.


Early career[edit]

Gustaf Tenggren was born in 1896 in Magra parish (now part of Alingsås Municipality), in Västra Götaland County, Sweden. In 1913 he received a scholarship to study painting at Valand, the art school in Gothenburg, Sweden. Tenggren's early schooling and artistic influences were solidly grounded in Scandinavian techniques, motifs and myths; he worked with illustrating in the popular Swedish folklore and fairy tales annual Bland Tomtar och Troll ("Among Gnomes and Trolls"), where he succeeded illustrator John Bauer.

After his first exhibition in 1920, Tenggren left Sweden and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States, where his sister lived, and from there, in 1922, to New York City. By 1923, he was illustrating children's book during the heyday of illustrated books by illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen. In 1923, Tenggren's work appeared e.g. in new releases of Tanglewood Tales and A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, as well as in The Christ Story for Boys and Girls by Abraham Rihbany.

Disney Company[edit]

In the 1920s, while continuing to illustrate a large number of children's books, Tenggren worked consistently in advertising up until the Depression; in 1936, he was hired by Walt Disney Productions, to work as a chief illustrator with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Tenggren was not only a concept artist on this movie (not an animator), but he did much of the illustrations for the non-animated tie-ins to the film, most notably the serialized version of Snow White which was featured in two successive issues of Good Housekeeping Magazine just prior to the film's release. He later worked with productions such as Bambi and Pinocchio, as well as backgrounds and atmospheres of films such as The Ugly Duckling and The Old Mill.

Children's books[edit]

The Poky Little Puppy (1942). Tenggren gave up his Rackham-esque fairy tale illustration style after he left Disney in 1940.

Although his work for Disney was still in the Rackham fairy-tale illustration style, after he left the studio he never painted that way again. From 1942 to 1962, Tenggren worked for Little Golden Books with illustrations for children's books such as Tawny Scrawny Lion; Little Black Sambo and The Poky Little Puppy, which became the single all-time best-selling hardcover children's book in English; and "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," Emma Gelders Sterne's retelling of the Arthurian Legend . During these years his production increased, as did the marketability of his name with a stream of Tenggren books.

After he moved to the United States in 1920, he never returned to Sweden again. Gustaf Tenggren died in 1970 at Dogfish Head in Southport, Maine.


Although the name Gustaf Tenggren remains relatively unknown, his work is widely recognized, both that in the Disney films and his work in the Little Golden Books. After his death, much of his non-Disney art was donated to the University of Minnesota to be included in the Kerlan Collection, a special library focusing on children's literature.

In memory of Gustaf Tenggren, a 9-meter (30 ft) bronze sculpture of Pinocchio, designed by the American pop artist Jim Dine, has been erected in downtown Borås, a city south of Tenggren's birthplace. At the cost of SEK 9.5 million, the Pinocchio sculpture was supposed to be paid for by private donations. The statue was erected on a tiered pedestal at the beginning of Allégatan, a main street in the center of Borås at the start of the Borås Festival of the Arts on May 16, 2008.



Background illustrations[edit]

Published works[edit]



  • John Canemaker, Before the animation begins : the art and lives of Disney inspirational sketch artists, New York : Hyperion, 1996 ISBN 978-0-7868-6152-1
  • Steve Santi, Illustrators/Authors-Collecting Little Golden Books, Florence, Alabamba : Books Americana, 1989 ISBN 978-0-89689-071-8
  • From Swedish fairy tales to American fantasy : Gustaf Tenggren's illustrations 1920-1970, Minneapolis : University Art Museum, University of Minnesota, 1986
  • Pinocchio delar Borås befolkning, by Lars Råde, in the Expressen, March 24, 2006
  • Kultur Väst: Jim Dines Pinoccio har landat
  1. ^ " - Stories from a Magic World". May 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 

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