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The Nightingale Stories

 

from Hans Andersen, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac, London, Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1911.

The Golden Age of Illustration (1880's to 1920's) was a period of unprecedented excellence in book and magazine illustration. It developed from advances in technology permitting accurate and inexpensive reproduction of art, combined with a voracious public demand for new graphic art.
 
In Europe, as well as in America, illustrators and cartoonists were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and by such design-oriented movements as the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, and Les Nabis. Leading artists included  Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen. Edmund Dulac, born in Toulouse, France, was artistically inclined from adolescence. He switched from law to art and moved to London where he was in tremendous demand from publishers.
 
Dulac's most famous works of art include beautiful illustrations for books like the Arabian Nights, Sleeping Beauty, Stories from Hans Christian Andersen and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám."The Nightingale" (Danish: "Nattergalen") is a literary fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Well received upon its publication in Copenhagen in 1843 in New Fairy Tales, the tale is believed to have been inspired by the author's unrequited love for opera singer Jenny Lind, the "Swedish nightingale".
 
The story says that the Emperor of China learns that one of the most beautiful things in his empire is the song of the nightingale. When he orders the nightingale brought to him, a kitchen maid (the only one at court who knows of its whereabouts) leads the court to a nearby forest, where the nightingale agrees to appear at court; it remains as the Emperor's favourite. When the Emperor is given a bejewelled mechanical bird he loses interest in the real nightingale, who returns to the forest. The mechanical bird eventually breaks down, and the Emperor is taken deathly ill a few years later. The real nightingale learns of the Emperor's condition and returns to the palace; whereupon Death is so moved by the nightingale's song that he allows the Emperor to live. The question then arises: why Andersen emphasized the Chinese origin of his tale?

According to Andersen's datebook for 1843, "The Nightingale" was composed on 11 and 12 October 1843, and "began in Tivoli", an amusement park and pleasure garden with Chinese motifs in Copenhagen that opened in the summer of the same year. It’s worth mentioning that the most fascinating site of the current park is the so-called “Chinese tower and boating lake” inspired by Chinese traditional pagoda architectural design and Chinese gardens, also “Pantomime theatre”- common with the Chinese palaces by its decor. Perhaps those gems of the newly-opened park were influential for the author to select Chinese protagonists. As for Edmund Dulac, he has been several times engaged in illustrating East-related fairy tales and stories, such as “Princess Badoura”, “The story of the bird Feng”, etc., employing Chinese art leitmotifs and ornaments to underline the Oriental nature of those literary works. Dulac’s devotion to Eastern culture was appreciated by the commission of the Chinese ambassador's wife - Madame Wellington Koo’s portrait (circa 1921) to him.
 
It’s noteworthy that in China the translation and introduction of “The Nightingale” along with Andersen's other fairy tales were initiated by some members of the Literary Research Society, which was founded in 1921, and some intellectuals in China who led the New Culture Movement. Chinese versions of Andersen's fairy tales designed for young readers appeared in the early 1930s, gaining popularity. After the reform and opening-up of China in the late 1970s, Andersen's fairy tales were retranslated by many and were enthusiastically received by Chinese readers in the 1980s.

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The Nightingale Stories

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