from the jazz age to the space age

Category Archives: mercer mayer

mercer mayer’s “sleeping beauty” {1984} is more than a little convoluted and while beautiful, one of his lesser works. the subtle pencil shading is gone and the colors appears straight out the the pan with next to no mixing. his solid draftsmanship has weakened and characters are often put together in unconvincing ways. still, some of the pages spark with his old brilliance and beauty. set in a framework of celtic myth, the story opens with the king’s wedding to his peasant queen. through a mishap the blue faery is given a cup of gold painted lead instead of one of solid gold. she curses them with barrenness.

the childless queen is visited by a silver owl (Jareth from Labyrinth?) and finally conceives.
unfortunately, the king gets jealous and kills the owl. needless to say, that’s probably going to bite him in the ass.
faeries {yes, faEries. mayer is aiming toward myth rather than fairy tale} appear and give their blessings. mayer’s obsession with hair reaches it’s apogee. not only do the ladies have hair, they have celtic knot hair.

and yes, the blue faery crashes the party and she’s pretty mad about not getting an invite, but that’s not all~ turns out the silver owl was her brother. the same silver owl the king killed. seriously, this royal family can’t get a break. so the blue faery curses the baby. luckily the star faery {shown at left} modifies the curse.

sleeping beauty still pricks her finger and falls asleep. 80 years later a prince searches for her. he happens to be the blue faery’s half human son. you know what that means? trouble! 
i try to ignore the prince’s arm bc the waves of auburn hair and beautiful green dress make up for it.
worst. mother. in. law. possible.

yeah, she’s really angry her son married sleeping beauty and so she curses everyone there. unfortunately that includes her son and since he’s half faery {sigh} that means she’s cursing all faeries which is illegal or something so she’s screwed. like i said, it’s convoluted. it also suffers from essentially making the story about the blue faery and her son. we never even get to know sleeping beauty. she’s practically a “macguffin” in this retelling. not to mention, the queen in the beginning only conceives after she gets really cozy with the silver owl. blameless? well the king was jealous enough to kill the owl. anyway, i couldn’t help but wonder if sleeping beauty and the prince are actually cousins which adds an unintentional dimension of both ick and hilarity. despite the gaping plot holes, mercer mayer’s “sleeping beauty” is still worth owning for the amazing celtic motif and phenomenal hair.


as i’ve posted before, mercer mayer is one of my earliest and most lasting influences. with the beginning of autumn, now seems a fitting time to post his illustrations from “favorite tales from grimm.” this was his third and last book before his artistic decline began to set in. the pictures are highly detailed, exquisitely shaded, and colored. his model appears to once again be his first wife, the regally beautiful marianna mayer. 
the themes are befitting the brothers grimm. many of the pictures are slightly frightening or adult in nature. they also appear to be painted on a heavier paper but unfortunately, unlike, “beauty and the beast” there is no art information given in the copyright info. btw~ this book is out of print.
~snow white
“rumpelstiltskin”
not only is her semi-profile masterfully done, the soft pencil shading of her cheekbones is amazing. her hair, her hands, and the soft realistic baby make this my favorite in the book.
“allerleirauh”
“thousandfurs” is a deeply disturbing tale, better known by it’s french varient, “donkeyskin,” which was made into an incredibly strange, wondrous, and popular film starring catherine deneuve. the princess escapes her incestuous father by disguising herself as an animal & getting a job in another castle. after some cinderella-like parties everything turns out happily ever after.
the expression in her lamp-like eyes is so ambiguous. is it wistful? hopeful? the soft modeling of her nose and mouth and, as always, mayer’s dipiction of the swirling organic trees, leaves, and nature are some of his best. 

mercer’s mayer‘s “east of the sun & west of the moon” is a curious book. an amalgam of the scandinavian tale of the title & “the frog prince” plus some elemental mythology. i’m still confused why he didn’t call it “the frog prince” instead of “eswm“. it certainly offers a more satisfying telling of “fp” than the conventional grimms’ tale. it bears a close resemblance to the slavic fairy tale, “finist the falcon” {itself a sister to eswm}

our beautiful but haughty heroine in lovely slavic costume wooed by some very ivan bilibinesque young men. her family suffers a reversal of fortune.


the colors in this tale are brighter that “beauty” perhaps to reflect russian aesthetics.






her father can be cured by a drink from this pool. however she loses the cup. a friendly frog offers to retrieve it, with certain conditions. she agrees.
















she throws her frog against the wall & he turns into a prince. but instead of scoring big time for her rudeness he is whisked away by trolls. our lady goes to the guardians of each element to find her way to the castle east of the sun & west of the moon to rescue the prince. here she talks with the fire salamander who knows everything in the heart of the world except…










she climbs the stair to the castle. i wonder if that’s cyrillic on the steps?
that sky is amazing.
















the troll princess. i’ve been to clubs with creatures like this wandering around. mayer demonstrates his growing fascination with hair which will reach its apogee in his version of “sleeping beauty”. i love that her hair is slightly frizzy throughout the story. before straighteners were de rigueur  this was considered quite charming.


…of course she saves him & they live happily ever after.




working on some new paintings which will be offered on etsy as well as two private commissions. in the meantime i wanted to share one of my favorite books when i was a kid, mercer & marianna mayer’s “beauty & the beast”.
they were husband & wife at the time~ i believe they were married throughout the pinnacle of mercer’s art. i’ve found 2 photos of marianna & not coincidentally she bears a striking resemblance to “beauty” as well as his other fairy tale heroines.

clearly a homage to durer’s “st. jerome in his study”, it depicts the moment the merchant must tell his family that they are financially ruined. of his 6 children only one son lays a comforting hand on his father’s arm as well as, of course, beauty herself. the others seem annoyed &/or stunned.

durer’s “st. jerome in his study”, conventionally thought to represent a life of contemplation.

beauty, at the beast’s castle, bidding goodbye to her father. i could chat endlessly about how beautiful each of these paintings is, but instead i’ll tell you what they mean to me. i learned to draw profiles from this picture, in particular the iris. i learned to paint skin as well from mayer. i still find his heavily blushed cheeks wonderful. in my own work i overemphasize them to create an artificial doll-like beauty. her hands also are particularly well drawn.

a difficult semi profile well executed. notice beauty’s hand on her book, how tense the fingers are. the beast’s castle is loaded with egyptian artifacts while beauty wears egyptian sandals. note the rose motif in the curtain & the castle’s stonework.

italian clothing & decor with egyptian details. each painting is outlined in india ink. the pencils are left as shadows & over-painted in watercolor. the sheer amount of detail in this picture is staggering. i used to day dream about wandering up the stairs in the background.

the text reads, “the beast was a magician as well. often while telling a story he would wave his arm & a picture would unfold before their eyes.”

i would die if someone made beauty’s jewellery. look at that gorgeous butterfly headdress!

the beast, alone & crying bc beauty has left. of course she returns & they live happily ever after.