Beautiful Illustrations That Reimagine the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

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In 1812, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published 86 dark stories that became known as the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The book was presented as children’s literature, but the violent, sexual, and sinister narratives within painted a very different picture. In celebration of older brother Jacob Grimm’s birthday this week, we’re looking at beautifully illustrated retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales by artists new and old. These stunning artworks prove that the Grimms continue to capture our imagination and curiosity more than 200 years later.

David Hockney

David Hockney — English painter, stage designer, and friend of Andy Warhol — created a series of haunting etchings based on the Grimms’ fairy tales, compiled in the 1969 book Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with illustrations by David Hockney . Works referenced include The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen. The pop art icon’s artworks are devoid of color and focus on surreal spaces and vivid textures — inky shadows, crosshatched architecture, and impenetrable fields of grass.

Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti

English author Neil Gaiman has always had a penchant for presenting the murky realities of life to young readers. “I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up,” he told TOON Books. “I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back. Tell them you can win. Because you can, but you have to know that.” His stunning collaboration with artist Lorenzo Mattotti (known for the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) imagines the tale of two siblings lost in the forest, abducted by a cannibalistic witch, as a dark, swirling dream to be untangled.

Edward Gorey

Little Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, and Rumpelstiltskin are retold by whimsical master of the macabre Edward Gorey and writer James Donnelly in the book Three Classic Children’s Stories. Gorey’s finely penned eccentricities and quirky humor bring a fresh perspective to the age-old tales.

Yann Legendre

You’ve probably admired the work of Janus Films and Criterion Collection illustrator Yann Legendre before. The French artist gave the Grimms’ fairy tales a bold and colorful Neu Art Deco makeover in recently released a book.

Kay Nielsen

Golden Age of Illustration artist Kay Nielsen — whose work was featured in the “Ave Maria” and “Night on the Bare Mountain” sequences of Disney’s Fantasia — captivates readers with his delicate, wispy style. The Danish artist’s mystical, Euro-style illustrations were featured in Hansel and Gretel, and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm.

Andrea Dezsö

Romania-born artist Andrea Dezsö’s evocative cut-paper illustrations, included in a newly released version of the Grimms’ fairy tales — complete and uncensored (many of the stories have been watered down since their initial publication) — capture the magic and mystery of the unsettling universe invented by the German authors. If we didn’t know any better, we’d guess that the artworks accompanied the original stories.

Albert Weisgerber

Website 50 Watts writes about German painter Albert Weisgerber, who illustrated the Grimms’ fairy tales in 1900.

Gustaf Tenggren

Swedish Golden-Age illustrator Gustaf Tenggren was the chief artist behind the old-world style of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the Walt Disney Company. Tangerine also contributed to the iconic Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio. Taking influence from English illustrator Arthur Rackham, Tenggren’s figures from the Grimms’ bibliography are rendered in a delicate palette with animated faces, set amongst lively scenes.