And now another Masterpiece Monday focusing on a princess, this time Snow White. This water colour concept painting for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was created by Gustaf Tenggren, who is probably one of the most influential Disney artists ever .I’ve always loved this particular piece of concept art for it’s unique old-world style, and for the stark contrast in colour between Snow White and the Queen.I have talked extensively about how Snow White was designed in this article, so today I’m going to take a slightly different approach to discussing the princess’s film.Instead, I am going to tell you about how Gustaf Teneggren’s gorgeous concept paintings, like this one, influenced the style and tone of the entirety of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Gustaf Tenggren was born in Sweden and spent many years there as a children’s book illustrator before moving to the U.S. and joining Walt Disney Animation Studios. He had a background rooted in fairy tale illustrations and folk art that was exactly what Walt Disney needed to give Snow White and the Sven Dwarfs the old European fairy-tale charm he wanted. Prior to starting work on the film, Walt had actually taken a trip throughout Europe with his wife to find inspiration for himself and his animators. While there, he bought many European fairy tale books to take back to the studio as reference material. Tenggren became the perfect artist to continue the work of the fairy tale books and provide ideas and inspiration to the American animators. As you can see here, his old-fashioned water colour paintings of the characters perfectly captured the European illustration style, and because of this his designs were used extensively throughout the film. So although the many values depicted in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were called thoroughly American by many reviewers, the overall artistic style of the film borrows heavily from old-world Europe, in large part thanks to the work of Gustaff Tenggren.
Gustaff Tenggren was actually one of the very first visual development artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios. His art was less about the specific designs of the characters and scenery, and more about setting a tone and colour scheme for the film. I think this piece of concept art illustrates this quite well, with it’s sharp contrast between the soft pale pastel tones of Snow White and the inky black of the Witch. This contrast showed up in much of Tenggren’s concept art, and the film reflected the art by having softly coloured scenes of Snow White and the dwarfs sharply contrasted with the extremely dark scenes involving the Queen/ Witch. Much of Tenggren’s art also took inspiration from dark and almost surreal images of German Expressionistic film. This can be seen in the Witch in this painting with her monstrous face, bulging eyes, and long knobby fingers. Again the animators took inspiration from this quality in the concept art, applying this style to the darker scenes in the film. With his heavy influence on the tone, style, and colour scheme of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gustaff Tenggren set a precedent for the importance of the role of the visual development artist in future animated Disney features.
So now you know just how influential Gustaff Tenggren, one of the first Disney concept artists, was to developing the European inspired look of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.