Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Marianne and the River Nix

Peter and the Princess was published in 1920 by Reilly and Lee, as an elaborately boxed gift book. The book is a fantasy, by Carl Grabo, telling stories of Peter and the Princess Marianne, who have known each other since before they were born. The stories are charming, along the lines of traditional fairy tales, and the book was clearly an important project for John R. Neill.

This is one of the few books Neill illustrated with a lavish suite of full color illustrations. The other major books with watercolor paintings are Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Emerald City of Oz. Full color paintings were done for the dust jacket of The Road to Oz, as well as the covers of Sea Fairies and Tik-Tok of Oz. A cover and two interior paintings were done for Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and he did do full watercolors for the covers of several other books, as well as duotone illustrations for some titles. But full color paintings are generally unusual in his book work, especially by this time period; by 1920, Neill was not illustrating many books other than the annual Oz title, focusing his attention on producing pieces for periodicals.
I've blogged about the book in the past, but today is a little different - this time I'm showing an illustration from the book.  This painting was used as a color plate in Chapter 9, and shows Marianne falling under the enchantment of the River Nix. The Nix has lost his daughter, and when he sees Marianne gazing into the water decides to take her as a replacement, to live with him in the river. She is eventually rescued by Peter, who first has to perform the difficult task of restoring the lost daughter of the Nix.
This is a lovely image, and a great example of the challenges faced by drawings that are now 100 years old. Illustration art can suffer over time - exposure to sun, to damp, rough handling, all can play a part in the survival of original pieces. This painting has had a touch of damp staining, and the board has darkened, possibly through exposure to sunlight or simply from acids in the material. This is why Marianne’s face and other areas seem to have changed their color. If the board were still a light off-white, the image would look rather different. Also, the sky on the left side has been retouched at some point to repair some losses. However, it is still the original art and doesn’t exist in any other form, so it has to be accepted for what it is.

The published version of the painting looks candy colored and bright; this is partly due to printing techniques. The flat, brightly colored inks are not quite the same as the subtler watercolor and gouache used in the original.

The piece seems to have been a family favorite, as it was exhibited along with other examples of Neill's work on several occasions. One example is a 1965 display at the Port Washington Public Library, on Long Island (brochure shown below). Four paintings from Peter and the Princess were included in this exhibition, along with other drawings and sketches by Neill. I would love to know what the condition of this painting was at that time!

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