The Influence of Heinrich Kley

I’m going to talk with you today about a very enigmatic illustrator – someone who is not really remembered in his own country but who would be very influential on a certain animator from the USA.  In a way, this man would influence the art of classical character animation of the USA in its entirety. The man I speak of is one named Heinrich Kley.

Kley was born in 1863 in Karlsruhe, Germany.  He trained at the Karlsruhe Akademi and from there, did many paintings in oils and watercolors of various subjects like still lifes and landscapes.  He also did “industry paintings” of modern life with factories and workers toiling in them endlessly.  That probably would shape the way for his main claim to fame.

Heinrich Kley did many drawing with pen-and-ink, many of them illustrations for a pair of magazines known as Jugend and Simplizissimus.

A lot of you probably know that I myself use pen-and-ink frequently.  It’s my primary means of drawing my Sunnyville comics and a number of the drawings you see on this blog are done in ink and with nib pens.  I admire Kley’s pen work as the lines are smooth and convey the essence of the subject.

His work turned out to be very influential on animation legend Walt Disney.  Kley’s drawings, especially those of alligators and hippos, were said to be the inspiration behind the 1940 animated film Fantasia.  Since Disney himself spawned much interest in the field of animation, some could argue that Kley indirectly influenced the work of character animation for many years.

Another interesting note is that while Kley was a citizen and resident of Germany, he didn’t seem to have any known contact with the Expressionist art movement or the Bauhaus.  It’s quite ironic, the way I see it.  Paul Klee (1879-1940) has also been an influence on my work and he was an Expressionist as well as a teacher at the Bauhaus academy – yet neither he or his colleagues had not been known to meet Kley.  Why?  I don’t know.

There’s no consensus on when Heinrich Kley exactly died.  Many sources claim that he died in 1945 though a few argue he passed away in the early 1940s.  Yet another report claims he hung in there until 1952.  But regardless of when Kley became wormfood, his influence just won’t die.  His pen-and-ink work shows the most exquisite and expert lines.  His drawings also convey gesture that is unmatched by any other artist living today.  Kley’s interesting subject matter also shows us horrors not seen since the nightmarish works of graphic artists Francisco Goya or Brueghel the Elder.

Those above drawings came from this neat webpage so check it out for more samples.  You can also check out the book from Dover Publications, the Drawings of Heinrich Kley, which has all kinds of images reprinted from his sketchbooks.  A local bookstore or your neighborhood library just might have a copy.  It’s worth taking a peek at – Kley’s pen-and-ink work is a spectacle that will probably never be repeated again in the history of humanity.


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