Looking back at the rich history of three fairy tales
● By J. Chambless
Gennady Spirin’s ‘Who’s been sleeping in my bed?’ says Papa Bear’ (2009).
No matter your age, “Cinderalla & Co.: Three Fairy Tales Reimagined” will give you a deep appreciation for the roots of these three tales – as well as the many ways they have been told, century after century.
More than 100 paintings and drawings by 35 artists are bound to contain some favorites that will resonate with all ages. The show looks at “Cinderella,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” as envisioned by various artists in various eras.
“Cinderella,” which has roots dating back more than 1,000 years, is represented for more modern audiences by a storyboard and sketches from the 1950 Disney animated film, but Edmund Dulac’s splendid, midnight-blue watercolor of Cinderella leaving the castle, done in 1909, is vastly more resonant. A sampling of 2013 illustrations for the story by Steve Guarnaccia inserts designer fashions as the ball gowns, but sets them in a 1920s context.
Brian Pinkney’s 1998 illustrations for the tale give it a Caribbean twist and cast of characters. Among the not-to-be-missed pieces is a wonderful illustration by Beatrix Potter, of a magical coach pulled by a team of rabbits, that never appeared in print.
“Goldilocks” is seen several ways, beginning with four illustrations by Leonard Leslie Brooke, from around 1900, that have a trio of natural-looking bears – without clothes – as the family intruded upon by the rather rude little girl. In Steven Guarnaccia’s reinterpretation, the story is filled with midcentury furniture and home furnishings. When Goldilocks sits down and breaks the Eames chair, you want to yell, “That’s a priceless antique, you clod!”
Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration, “Goldilocks and the Three Bowls,” is a great nod to the rich history of traditional illustration, as are the immediately recognizable Leonard Weisgard illustrations for the story, from 1938. There are sketches showing James Marshall’s meticulous planning for his “Cinderella,” including a side-by-side pairing of the sketch and the finished color piece.
Ed Young is represented by several illustrations from “Yeh-Shen, A Cinderella Story from China,” an ancient version of “Cinderella” with a fish granting the magic for the girl’s transformation. Cover art and an illustration by Susan Jeffers, from 1985, are terrific, and her view of Cinderella going to the ball is like a tapestry of blooms and branches and a tangle of horses drawing the coach.
“The Three Little Pigs” section has two animation cels from the Disney 1933 cartoon, looking impossibly bright after so many years. Lane Smith’s cover illustration for the 1989 modern twist on the story points out the wolf’s side of the tale. Steven Kellogg turns the pigs into captains of industry – a waffle-making business – and the wolf meets a sticky fate.
David Wiesner’s “The Three Pigs” (2001) breaks through the storytelling format by having the characters step out of their pages and wander through other tales before finally sorting things out. The many unexpected pictures-within-pictures are lots of fun.
And again, in Guarnaccia’s inventive version, the three little pigs are noted architects Philip Johnson, Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright.
You’ll need a while to properly see everything in the gallery, and if you bring smaller storybook fans, you’ll be doing a lot of lifting them up to examine the details of the works on view. It’s a richly varied exhibit that spotlights not just the visual magic of the pictures, but the deep well of invention that underlies the stories, which are constantly changing.
“Cinderella & Co.: Three Fairy Tales Reimagined” continues through Jan. 5 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art (Route 1, Chadds Ford). Visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.