Sannel Larson

Monday, June 3, 2013

Elsa Beskow

Stories that we read in childhood stay with us forever and Elsa Beskow's fairy tales with its wonderful illustrations has in some way shaped my life with her imaginative work. I loved to read her fairy tales as a child and I could sit for hours watching her whimsical and enchanting drawings. I truly believe she triggered my big imagination and the love I have myself to illustrate and write for children.

Elsa Beskow 1874-1953

Elsa Beskow was a Swedish author and illustrator, known for her beloved children's stories and picture books. She truly was a remarkably talented person, full of vim and vigor, and was referred to as the Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia. She was known for her masterly attention to detail, as her stories often contained teensy-weensy heroes.

Elsa Beskow combined reality with fairy tales. She made water lilies, chanterelle's and even the smallest blueberry all came to life in her richly colored and detailed work. As much as I admire today's digital art, I can't but help to adore the detailed “old school art” of illustrations that's so typical of Elsa Beskow. For you who may not heard, or may not know so much about this Swedish author, here I have put together some interesting facts about this intriguing woman and her life.

Elsa Beskow

Elsa Beskow's Early Years

Elsa Beskow was born as Elsa Maartman in Stockholm, Sweden on February 11, 1874. Her father, Bernt Maartman, had a Norwegian background while her mother, Augusta Fahlstedt was Swedish. Elsa had four younger sisters and one older brother. Elsa Beskow showed very early her ability to make up fairy tale stories. Even before she was able to speak properly, she started to tell stories to her brother who helped her out with words and the plots. At an early age she showed her talent and her love for drawing as well, and she loved to draw images of nature such as flowers, trees and berries.

Elsa Beskow was brought up in a liberal home and she was taught to stand up for her beliefs. Many of her beliefs and values was expressed in her children's picture books. She vouched for freedom of speech for everyone in her book “The flower festival” written 1914. Some say that Mrs Chestnut, in her loose-fitting dress, is portrayed as pregnant - a daring and bold thing to do at a time when the middle classes were of the opinion that pregnant women should be kept behind closed doors and out of sight.

Aunt Green in her Garden

Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender

When Elsa was 15 years old her father died of pneumonia, leaving his wife Augusta and six children alone and the family's economic affairs in ruin. Augusta and the children moved in with Augusta's unmarried sisters and brother, who at the time were already living together. Elsa Beskow's years living with her aunt and uncle inspired her “Aunt-series” of books: Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender (1918) Aunt Brown's Birthday ( 1925 ) Peter and Lotta's Adventure ( 1929 ) Uncle Blue's New Boat ( 1942 ) and Peter and Lotta's Christmas ( 1947 ).

Elsa Beskow's aunts and uncle had different views when it came to parenting and education, and they started a school where the method of teaching was through games and enjoyment and with focus on understanding what they studied, instead of the strict school system at the time. Elsa was inspired by these views and the story of Doctor Clever Clogs, was created where she criticized the Swedish school system.

The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman

In 1892, at the age of eighteen, Elsa Beskow continued her studies at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm, learning what she loved the most - drawing. Her drawings and writings was first published in 1894, in the very popular children's magazine, Jultomten (Father Christmas ) Her debut book, The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman was released in 1897. In 1894, she started to work as a drawing-master at the Whitlockska Sam school in Stockholm and worked there until 1897.

Elsa and Nathaniel Beskow

Nathaniel Beskow

It was at the University she met Nathaniel Beskow, (1865 – 1953), when she was a model for Nathaniel's paintings. They married in 1897. Nathaniel Beskow however, changed his course and returned to his interrupted theology studies and eventually became a doctor of theology. He also served as a school headmaster, writer, preacher, pacifist and social activist. He published collections of sermons and made significant contributions as a hymn writer.

“ Every year another book and every other year another boy”

Between the years 1899 – 1914, Elsa and Nathaniel Beskow had six sons. Elsa Beskow supported her growing family with her writing. She portrayed her life as “ Every year another book and every other year another boy”. Art, literature and music was very important in the Beskow's home and so was the cause of Swedish women's movement that was growing in strength at the time in Sweden. Both Elsa Beskow and her husband supported and was involved with the campaign for women's suffrage. Nathaniel Beskow was often engaged in leading discussions and became a noticeable negotiator.

Peter in Blueberry Land

Berries and flowers Came To Life in Elsa Beskow's World

Elsa Beskow's breakthrough came in 1901, with “Peter in Blueberry Land”. This was her first book to be translated. From then on, her picture books became immensely popular and have been translated into fifteen languages.They include; Arabic, Danish, Dutch, English, Faroese, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

She used her children and the nature as her inspiration. Her sons became model's for her child characters in her books and she created one picture book for each of her sons. The Beskow family lived in an old wooden mansion in the outskirt of Stockholm, surrounded with a huge,wild garden. Elsa Beskow would often sit in her garden to draw and let the wonderful flowers, plants and insects be her inspiration. She combined reality with fairy tales. Animals, children, berries, flowers, elves and goblins all came to life in her colorful and detailed illustrations.

Beskow's Sons

In 1922, Elsa and Nathaniel's youngest son, at the age of seven, died in a tragic accident whilst he was skating.

Their son Gunnar Beskow (1901 – 1991 ) was an acclaimed geologist, author, poet and cultural personality. He did groundbreaking work in Sweden for today’s stance on environmental and green issues. He was also chairman in The Swedish Authors Association 1948-1950.

Bo Viktor Beskow (1906 – 1989 ) studied at The Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, Paris and in Rome.Versatile in his artistry; fresco-painting, mural-painting, stained-glass windows in churches around Sweden, and portraits painting, as well as murals at the UN headquarters in New York.

On June 30, 1953, Elsa Beskow died of cancer at the age of 79. Four months later on October 8, her husband, Nathaniel Beskow died.

Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia

Elsa Beskow's style inspired many artists and she was thought of as Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia. Unfortunately, she fell victim to criticism, mainly about the gender roles within her stories, as well as being considered as too old-fashioned. However, she dominated Swedish children's picture books for over 50 years and was awarded in 1952, the Nils Holgerson Plaque for her collection. In 1958, the Elsa Beskow Plaque was founded by the Swedish Library Association.

Elsa Beskow wrote and illustrated over forty books in her lifetime. She also illustrated songbooks and ABC books for Swedish schools. Her final book, The Red Bus and the Green Car” was published in 1952, the year before her passing. Elsa Beskow's picture books have been known and cherished for over a century. They are true classics and are steadily reprinted, as well as Elsa Beskow's wonderful calendars, with seasonal artwork from her books.


  1. Thank you, Sannel, for this lovely introduction into a classic writer. Her drawings are lovely and the story you've shared about her life was fascinating. The "Aunt" series book has me intrigued, as I have an "Aunt Peg" book in progress (for years) with pictures and a children's song. Wonderful write up of Elsa Beskow. This was the era when my Grandmother (born in 1888)came here to the US from Vienna.

  2. This is wonderful Sannel--The illustrations are wonderful --thank you!!

  3. It's nice to see you posting on your blog again, Sannel! I know you've been very busy writing your own children's book and I'm so excited it is almost done. I can't wait to see it.

    Elsa's story is a fascinating one. It's so interesting to learn a bit about what made an author who they are, their lives and triumphs and tragedies. Especially when they were trailblazers as was Elsa Beskow. Thanks for sharing this wonderful profile. I hope we will get to see more in future. Hint, hint!

  4. Peg, I really would love to see your "Aunt Peg" book published and so would many many children. I hope we don't have to wait too long for such a wonderful treat.
    Thank you for your visit and lovely comment!

  5. Audrey, thank you for taking the time to leave such a kind comment! It's much appreciated.
    Take care!

  6. Rick, thank you for your constant encouragement and for being such a loyal follower. It means so much to me. Yes, I do have another famous Swedish children's author in mind, so keep your eyes open, my friend.

  7. Hi Sannel this is truly wonderful lady Elsa Beskow !!I have to admit that I had never heard of her but thanks to you now do.
    I am now returned to Blogger and am sorting out my work between here and HPs.
    There will be regular posts and also I shall be a regular reader of yours also. have a great day and here's to so many more posts for us both to share on here.
    Thank you again for this wonderful read.
    Lots of love.

  8. Eddy, great to see you again! I'm glad I could teach you something new. That always feels great. I have really been neglecting the blog world lately. I have just been too busy with other stuff. I hope, life will get back to "normal" again soon.
    Take care, my friend.
    Lots of love and hugs,

  9. You have done a great service to the book loving world by sharing this wonderful illustrator. I understand that you have joined the ranks of great children's book illustrators.

  10. Mike, I do not rank my own feeble illustrations with great illustrators like Elsa Beskow, who truly was a brilliant artist. However, thank you for your kind and most encouraging words. Keep it up, my friend and soon I'll have a swelled head, lol.
    Take care,


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Thank you !