[ARABIAN NIGHTS]. NIELSEN, Kay (illustrator). Noel DANIEL (editor). Andy DISL (designer). Margaret SIRONVAL (plate descriptions by). Kay Nielsen's 1001 Nights. The Complete Watercolours. Taschen, 2018.
Large 4to. Original sumptuous pictorial boards illuminated in gilt with full-size illustrations to both covers, spine lettered gilt, gilded endpapers decorated in silhouette, complete with the full suite of 20 fine coloured plates, heightened in gilt and printed on card (415 x 415mm) contained within a portfolio case in orange, printed in black and gilt, with cord tie, both items presented in the original box with recessed casing and ribbon-pull, with an elaborate midnight blue velveteen-covered lid elaborately and extravagantly decorated with a full-size coloured plate and floral gilt blocking to the surround, housed in the publisher's printed card box; pp. [vi], 7-137 + [vi], printed throughout on gilt paper and beautifully illustrated, largely in full colour, with 54 full, and double-page, plates, including details of the watercolours, together with numerous other smaller illustrations in colour; fine and new.
First edition; limited to only 5,000 numbered sets. In 1917, as World War I raged on the continent of Europe, the established Danish theatre designer and illustrator Kay Nielsen began work on a glorious commission, to illustrate the classic 1001 nights and its exotic tales of love, sex and power. He had already received praise for his earlier Art Deco artwork to depict the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon (1914) and the French fairy tales In Powder and Crinoline (1917).
Despite the unquestionable quality of Nielsen's work for this Middle Eastern classic, however, the publisher's were forced to abort the project for financial reasons and, unaccountably, it was never revived. Nielsen worked on further titles and eventually, in the 1930s, moved to Los Angeles where he took up illustration work at the Disney Studios, however he found it hard to adapt to this set-up and not long after parted company with his employers. After a series of failed business ventures he eventually died penniless and forgotten, in 1957, at the age of 71, a year after the death of his wife. In 1958 a large wooden box, sealed and fastened with clasps, was discovered at his home; the only complete series of his watercolours to have survived, and in perfect condition. As the book was unpublished, the individual watercolours survive as a collection, rather than being scattered to the four winds in a gallery sale. Regrettably a rather ignominious house clearance followed and the majority of the fine watercolours for this work were donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. From there they moved to the UCLA Grunwald Centrer for the Graphic Arts.
The images here are accompanied by fulsome descriptions by Margaret Sironval, who also contributes an illustrated essay on the history of the Tales. There are additional contributions by Cynthia Burlingham ('East Meets West: A New Style Emerges For A Rising Art Star') and Colin White ('Nielsen's Nights Illustrations Through The Lens of His Life and Work').