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]

From 1923 to 1939, Tenggren worked for the game company Milton Bradley; in 1936, he was hired by The Walt Disney Company, to work as a chief illustrator with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the popular feature-length movie originated in 1934 when Walt Disney decided to re-create the romantic fairy tale. Snow White was the first American feature-length animated film. Tenggren gave Snow White an "Old World" look that Walt Disney sought for this breakthrough animated feature, and despite being minor characters in the version by the Brothers Grimm, the dwarfs took on new life in Disney's story, with Tenggren's presentation drawing depicting the major characteristics of each of the seven dwarfs. His Rackham-style trees featured prominently in the forest scenes.

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. His work throughout Snow White and in many of the richly detailed urban backgrounds of Pinocchio are obviously drawn upon his Scandinavian heritage and experience. At the Disney Company, Tenggren mainly worked with background illustrations as well as leading the workforce of some 700 artists working with the animations. He left Disney in 1940.

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.


Gustaf Tenggren remains relatively unknown, possibly due to the fact he destroyed much of his early work. After his death, some of his remaining 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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