The Swiss artist, Ernst Kreidolf (1863-1956). A Princess helped him give up the life of a farmer to put his faith and future in the hands of the flower fairies. He lived magically ever after.
Once upon a time there was a boy with a really long name. Konrad Ernst Theophil Kreidolf (known as Ernst) should have been a farmer. Instead he anthropomorphized plants. He made them human and revealed his own vision of the magical side of nature to generations of enthralled Swiss children. In Ernst’s world, nothing is formless or inanimate. Nothing. Everything and anything has the potential of life and for magic. His imagery, and his poetry lend to every aspect of the universe, a lyrical and profound sense of wonder.
Kreidolf was born the second oldest child of the family on February 9, 1863 in Bern, Germany. In 1868 the family moved to Konstanz, where his father opened a toy shop. Kreidolf was left to grow up with his grandparents in nearby Tägerwilen, Switzerland. The idea was for him to take over his grandfather’s farm.
Ernst had other ideas. Magical ones.
In 1879 he moved back in with his parents in Konstanz and began a lithography apprenticeship. He also took drawing lessons. At the very time his apprenticeship finished, his father’s toy shop went bust so he stayed on at the printing firm to support his parents financially. He managed to sell a lithograph depicting the town of Tägerwilen and with the proceeds went to Munich School of Arts and Crafts between 1883 & 1885. He also had side-hussle as a lithographic draughtsman.
In 1887, on his second attempt, he passed the entrance exams for the Munich Art Academy. In 1888, Enrst joined the painting classes of the German genre and landscape painter, Ludwig von Loeffz, however, in the winter of 1889, ill health forced him to give up his studies.
This was precisely the catalyst, the life moment that allowed his magic to happen. For the next six years he isolated himself in the mountainous German resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. There he began churning out mythical imagery full of legends and fairy-tales, many of which were his own creations.
This is where life meets art. Now Ernst began teaching a princess. Yup. Between 1890 and 1896, the boy who should have been a Swiss farmer was teaching Princess Marie of Schaumburg-Lippe how to paint landscapes. The princess must have liked her teacher. In 1898, the princess loaned Ernst the money to publish his first flower fairy book, Blumenmaerchen (Flower Fairy-tale).
The princess set him free. From there everything went magically well ever after for Ernst. Flower Fairy-tale received positive attention. The art historian Josef August Beringer introduced Kreidolf to the poet Richard Dehmel and the pair produced Fitzebutze, a verse-book.
The book received positive attention, and the art historian Josef August Beringer brought Kreidolf to the attention of the poet Richard Dehmel. As a result the two cooperated to produce the verse-book Fitzebutze. This book written by Paula and Richard Dehmel, illustrated by Kreidolf and edited in 1900 at Insel publishing house, was controversial due to its socially critical texts. The children’s book publisher Hermann Schafstein signed Ernst exclusively to his publishing house and, for the rest of his life, magical book after magical book after magical book flowed from his mind to his brush and into the minds of Swiss children. He produced these books, these worlds atthe rate of one a year. Books with titles like Flower Chorus, A Winter’s Fairy Tale, Servamts of the Spring, The Dog’s Party, With the Gnomes and the Elves, The Grasshopper, From the Sunken Gardens and The Kingdom of the Flower Meadow.
The illustrations here are from 1922’s Alpenblumenmaerchen (Alpine Flower Fairy-tales). Right in the middle of his career.
Ernst died on August 12, 1956 in Berne.
Credits: Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature: Association : Verein Ebrst Kreidolf, Salenstein, Switzerland ; Images ; Getty Reasearch Institute, Los Angeles, Burgerbibliothek, Bern