Off the Shelf: Two Versions of the Nightingale

One of the things I like about collecting picture books is comparing illustrations of the same stories. It’s interesting to see how different artists interpret the same material.

I’ve got a few books that illustrate Has Christian Anderson’s The Nightingale. Most of them take advantage of the classic Chinese style of art, which results in some pretty amazing renderings.

The two books I’m sharing today are The Nightingale, translated by Eva Le Gallienne and illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, and World of Stories: Six Stories Told by Katharine Hepburn (yep, the famous actress), illustrated by Alison Claire Darke.

Here’s a really nice two-page spread from the Burkert book, showing the emperor’s palace, which was “built of fine porcelain and had cost a fortune, but it was so delicate and fragile, you had to be very careful how you moved about in it.”


The first illustration in the Darke book is this one, showing the emperor at court.


One scene that both books illustrate is the one in which the little kitchen maid leads the courtiers deep into the heart of the forest to find the nightingale and humbly ask it to sing for the emperor.

Here’s one take:


And here’s the other:


Here’s one from the second book of the emperor trying to arrange a duet between the real nightingale and the mechanical one. (It didn’t work out.) Gotta love the swishy black lines.


And here’s one from the first book of the people listening to the music master “demonstrating” the mechanical nightingale to the common people.


Here are the two artists’ renderings of the curious mechanical bird.



The second illustration is after the bird broke, obviously. Then, as we all know, the emperor fell ill. Here’s a picture from the first book of the emperor laid up in his palace.


And the true nightingale flew back to comfort the emperor. Here’s a picture from the second book of the little bird and the big cheese. You can also see Death on the right side “growing weaker.”


But I think this next one’s my favorite. It’s from the first book and depicts the bird singing his heart out for the splendid invalid, chasing the hateful dreams from his bed.


So, which illustrations do you like best? Even though both artists employed a rather traditional Chinese style, their illustrations are totally different. I think I like drama of Burkert’s angles and wide-lens landscapes, but I really like the movement created by the crisp lines in Darke’s work.

Hope you enjoyed these today!


3 thoughts on “Off the Shelf: Two Versions of the Nightingale

  1. I’ve been hoping to spot the Burkert version for years! Received this book as a gift around 1972–it’s been hard to track down. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Pingback: Off the Shelf: Katherine Hepburn Fairy Tales | Book People Studio

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