Friday, October 19, 2012

The Fantastic Drawings of Heinrich Kley

Heinrich Kley (1863-1945?) was a German painter and cartoonist who began his career by painting conventional scenes, and by illustrating for German manufacturing. His career took a decided turn in 1908. It was then that Kley began an association with the Münich magazine Die Jugend, drawing   cartoons that were both a humorous and caustic commentary on German institutions and society.

If the scene above looks familiar, it's because Walt Disney collected the work of Heinrich Kley, and was undoubtedly inspired to borrow from it for parts of the movie Fantasia.

Disney Studios drawing  |  from dmclain.com


"What a devilish stench!" Kley was intimately familiar with this aspect of industry, long before the public was concerned about pollution. Ironically, Kley's earlier paintings had been lauded for catching the "poetry" of factories.


"Smile, please!" Kley's line work reveals a drawing style that was as unerring as it was rapid.

"Clearing the Field"



"High Horsemanship"

This quick rendering of a horse reminds me of Asian calligraphy.


I saved my favorite Kley drawing, "The Finish of the Snails' Race," (below) for last.

Click to enlarge.
The date of Heinrich Kley's death is uncertain. Reports of it vary from 1945 to 1952. All these drawings come from two Dover books, The Drawings of Heinrich Kley and More Drawings by Heinrich Kley.
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Since I first published this posting, author Joe Procopio got in touch to verify Kley’s death date as February 8, 1945, and to introduce his new two-volume The Lost Art of Heinrich Kley (see the comment below). For more information on Kley and the new two-volume set about him, please go here.

21 comments:

  1. Clearly a prodigious talent, so I'm grateful to you for bringing him to my attention. There was obviously a serious side to him, (like many cartoonists), with his depiction of Napoleon removing various monarchs within Europe.

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    1. Dear Columnist,

      A reading of Heinrich Kley's life indicates that as he matured, he went through a decided shift in consciousness, with 1908 being a turning point. It would be interesting to know how that transpired.

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  2. Dear Mark - another new artist to me.
    What a versatile illustrator he was - from the comic to his more serious and telling observations. So pleased that you included the little hippo!!!
    I am curious as to why there is so much mystery over his death? 1945 - 1952 is such a long span.
    I have just been having a look at some of his work on the internet, which show a very vivid imagination and a surreal quality to his work too.
    Thanks for the introduction, I am going to point my youngest son in his direction, I think he would enjoy seeing his work too.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - I'm glad you're passing the Kley information on to your son — I hope he enjoys it and is inspired.

      I thought the confusion over Kley's death was curious, too. I can only imagine that it somehow relates to the end of World War II, and that he spent some time in a transient state. (But that's my own imagining.)

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  3. Dear Mark,
    Thank you for yet another fantastic post! What a treasure these drawings are. I was unfamiliar with Kley as well, but will now look for books about him and his work. (Is there a similarity between Kley & Klahm in their unsentimental but charming rendering of animals?? Brilliant.) I think, if I had my choice, I'd prefer to amass a collection of drawings over paintings and sculpture: they have more of the vitality and personality of the artist in them. So direct and so beautiful, they capture a quality that disappears in highly finished works... Thank you for the inspiration!
    Best regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika,

      And I'm thinking that quality of which you speak might be spontaneity. Almost like seeing a personality through a handwriting. I'm always in awe of artists who draw like this; I'm much more of a careful draftsman!

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  4. From humorous to goth-like, his cartoons and drawings are indeed fantastic! Full of imagination, creativity and fantasy.
    Loi

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    1. Hi, Loi - The blend of fantasy and social conscience makes for interesting and memorable art, doesn't it?

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  5. Hello Mark, These are wonderful drawings of Heinrich Kley, and we have come to depend on you to rediscover for us interesting artists like this. His work and vision reminds me of some of the artists in the late 19th century 'Les Vingt' group, especially James Ensor and Felicien Rops.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello, Parnassus - Heinrich Kley may very well have been influenced by Les Vingt, though I don't see his name associated with them in a quick Google search. Though he apparently lived into old age, Kley falls off the radar between the World Wars . . .

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  6. Dear Mark,
    I had never heard of this artist before.
    I enjoyed the pictures that you posted and I do like that one of Cupid playing with the lovers as one might with marionettes. Very clever.
    Kirk
    PS
    I see that German Wikipedia has him dying at Munich 8 Feb 1945.

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    1. Hi, Kirk - Yes, I've seen that date on Wikipedia, though in 1960, Dover Publications, Inc. stated that his death has been reported as August 2, 1945 and alternately, Feruary 8, 1952. It sounds as though he might not have had any next of kin!

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    2. Interesting: Not even the same day or month. That is a puzzle needing a solution!

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  7. Kley died on February 8, 1945 in Munich, survived by his second wife Emily, but by no children from either of his marriages.

    If you're interested in Kley's life and wrok, you'll want to check out the two-volume set, "The Lost Art of Heinrch Kley," that I just published about a month ago via Picture This Press. It was a labor of love years in the making, and is the first English-language edition of Kley's work in 50 years. I went to great lengths to include the latest research on Kley's life, working with a young German art historian who is the world's preeminent Kley scholar. The books also contain more than 450 examples of Kley's works, including rarely seen color works.

    You can read more about Kley, the new books, watch a video "book trailer," and if interested, order copies at the below URL:

    http://www.picturethispress.com/the-lost-art-of-heinrich-kley-volumes-1-2/

    Hope you like what you see if you check it out!

    Warm regards

    Joe Procopio

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    1. Dear Joe Procopio,

      Thanks so much for contributing your comments, and for introducing your new work here. As you can see, I've created a link to your Picture This Press site as part of the posting.

      Best wishes for much success,

      Mark Ruffner

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  8. This is fascinating Mark! I love the connection with Disney and I also think of Mr. Frog and Mr. Toad with that frog and drum. The leopard reminds me of Cartier. It is always interesting to see influences of one artist on another.

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    1. Hi, Theresa - I included the leopard drawing exactly because it also reminded me of Cartier!

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  9. undoubtedly talented! I love the quick 'penstrokes'. They all seem a tad creepy though? Must be the german influence -haha.

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    1. Hi, Stefan! Because Kley's inbitial work was in depicting German industrialization, perhaps he saw a looming World War I better than most. Certainly some of his vision was dark!

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  10. Lovely work, so easy and fluid yet highly dramatic as well. I am now off to check out more of Kley's work, Mark. Thanks so much for the introduction. I LOVE the one with the pirate and the tiny person on his sword. That man has swagger. :)

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    1. Hi, Yvette - That's one of my favorites, too. Some of Kley's penwork reminds me of the equally confident penwork of Charles Dana Gibson.

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