Friday, May 25, 2012

Illustrator Fritz Kredel

Fritz Kredel (1900-1973) was a marvelous illustrator whose work rests firmly in my consciousness. He was born in Michelstadt-im-Odenwald, Germany, and studied under Rudolf Koch, a noted German calligrapher. In this early part of his life, Kredel was noted primarily as a woodblock engraver. He worked with Koch on two books, The Book of Signs (1923) and The Book of Flowers (1930).

click to enlarge  |
In 1938, Kredel left Germany for the United States, for political reasons. He was already well known in the U.S., and found work in New York teaching at Cooper Union. He also began a very successful career as an illustrator of more than 400 books, including works for Reader's Digest and the Limited Edition Club.

This image is actually three separate scans — the spine wasn't damaged!

This is a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales from my own childhood, and as you can see, unwashed little hands opened it many times. Kredel painted the cover art.

The recent death of author and illustrator Maurice Sendak got me to thinking how illustrators of children's books inform and influence us at our most formative stage. At an early age — if we are lucky — we are introduced to so many morality plays, and while the morals of the stories are important, so too are the indelible cast of characters, and the way in which they are presented.

The characters of Fritz Kredel were charming . . .

. . . romantic . . .

. . . witty and delightful.

As a child, I was charmed by how Kredel played with scale. I remember looking at the illustration on the left and wondering whether such a structure actually existed.

Fritz Kredel's illustrations are masterpieces of line work. He had the great ability to show personality, movement and emotion with a tremendous economy of line. Doubtlessly his drawing skills were greatly enhanced by what he had learned as a wood engraver. If you look at the two enlargements I've made, you can see that they could easily translate as woodblocks.

from eBay
This is one of a series of prints of historic American military uniforms. Each print depicts two men interacting, typical of Fritz Kredel's thoughtful approach to his work.

Illustrations not otherwise credited come from:
Andersen's Fairy Tales  |  The Heritage Press, 1942
Grimm's Fairy Tales  |  Grosset & Dunlap, 1945



  1. Possibly his training as a botanical artist gave him that line technique that, as you demonstrate, served him so well in his later drawings. Botany has always been my hobby, and I have found that for plant identification line drawings are best, and those "pretty" books of wildflower photographs are almost useless. Line drawings illustrate as economically as possible exactly the points you wish to emphasize.

    Even in that almost photographic dandelion, the different stages of flowers and buds are simultaneously illustrated from ideal angles,
    each petal is outlined perfectly so that we can see its shape and disposition, and the flowers and leaves, while profuse, do not crowd or blend into each other.

    These are all masterpieces of illustration.

    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello, Parnassus -

      It's interesting to know that drawings or paintings of plants work better than photographs when identifying plants. I can see where that would also be the case for bird-watching identification.

  2. Hello Mark:
    What comes over in this post is the extraordinary versatility of Kredel together with, as you say, his ability to convey so much with a few 'apparently' simple lines. Children's illustrators are hugely interesting and represent, or so we feel, a very particular form of talent and creativity.

    On a separate note, so many gifted people, such as Kredel, were lost to Europe in the years leading up to the Second World War.

    1. Hello Jane and Lance:

      Your last remark calls to mind the conductor William Steinberg, who fled Germany the same year Fritz Kredel did. Steinberg was conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for many years, when I lived in Pittsburgh. One was often reminded of his personal history because he never failed to begin every performance with the National Anthem.

  3. Dear Mark - I often feel that illustrators do not necessarily receive their just rewards.
    I am sure that you are aware that I am very keen on Botanical drawings and paintings, and I love the one you have shown. I shall further investigate the book by Koch and Kredel.
    Your own delightful book of Grimm's Fairy Tales with the charming cover illustrated by Fritz Kredel is the sort of magical scene that would captures a young child's imagination.

    1. Dear Rosemary -

      I think you are right about illustrators not receiving just rewards. They are usually judged to be lesser artists, but I have always believed that they have a special chharge and talent, and that is to convey a very particular message. In the same vein, I think good political cartoonists practice a very high art form.

      As you may know, I designed and illustrated educational tabloids for grade school children, and it was definitely the most satisfying part of my career. I had the great opportunity and pleasure to look at the world as a child would, and what can be more invigorating than that?

  4. I was not familiar with Kredel's work, Mark. Thanks for showcasing it. I think I like his black line work best - there's lots of movement in it.

    There are so many wonderful vintage illustrators that have been forgotten. You only have to go online and see the many fabulous vintage illustrations with no source or artist information. It's a shame.

    Makes it hard for me to keep my Pinterest Vintage Boards honest. But I do my best.

    1. One thing I might have mentioned about Kredel's line work — aside from his obvious mastery of anatomy — is the naturalness with which all his cloth folds and drops. Here was an artist who knew his stuff!

  5. I, too, grew up with Kredel's illustrations of Grimm's Fairy Tales, although an earlier edition. It was my favorite book, and I studied the artwork even more than the stories. You're right that it becomes part of one's consciousness, imparting a sense of gracefulness and beauty to even the most mundane aspects of life.

    1. Hello, Donna — I still study Kredel's illustrations, and look at them from many perspectives — line drawings, great color washes, great little personalities. I'm glad he was a part of my childhood!