I’m stopping in quickly this evening to share some art from what I think is one of this year’s most fascinating holiday reads, especially if you’re an illustration junkie, as I am: the re-discovered German tale of The Christmas Rose, written over eighty years ago by Sepp Bauer and illustrated by Else Wenz-Viëtor, who was born in 1882 and died in the early 1970s.
The story of the book is that it was first published circa 1920 as a sort of advent calendar but, soon after that, went out of print. Many years later, a German editor learned all about the book from one of the illustrator’s daughters, who could recall the book — yet, it turns out, didn’t have a personal copy if it. This same editor searched used bookstores for a copy and finally lucked out when a copy was found in Switzerland in 2006. Though the original illustrations disappeared (probably destroyed during World War II, the book’s final note on the origin of the story states), it was re-issued in Germany. Charlesbridge brought us the first American edition this year, and it’s thanks to them that I can show you a handful of illustrations today.
The Christmas Rose tells the story of Fritz and Gretl, the children of an ailing woodcutter. After asking Saint Nikolaus about a cure for their dying father, the two children set out a difficult and lengthy journey to visit the Winter King and bring back a white rose; the scent of this rose, once it blooms, promises to restore their father’s health. Along their way, the children meet wild animals, a snow giant, and the Winter King. Eventually, they are united with a Christmas angel, who takes them back to Earth in time to save their father. The book is lengthy, divided into chapters (from December 6th, Saint Nikolaus Day, to December 24th when Germans celebrate Christmas), as it started its life as an advent calendar when first published. (I had to turn in my library copy today, but I’m 99% percent sure I got that summary right.)
Evidently, Wenz-Viëtor was a well-known illustrator in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, yet little is known about Sepp Bauer and how he came to write the story.
Here a few spreads from the tale, and thanks again to Charlesbridge for letting me share them and for this glimpse into German Illustration Past:
Illustrations from THE CHRISTMAS ROSE. Text copyright (First American Edition) © 2008 by Sepp Bauer. Illustrations © 2008 by Else Wenz-Viëtor. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA.