The Juniper Tree

The Juniper Tree by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Introduced by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Maurice Sendak is a genius. A god, even, in book terms. His drawings for The Juniper Tree (in two volumes) are one of the great achievements of twentieth century book illustration.

Moreover he resolutely refused to talk down to children, knowing that they understood only too well the complexities of life, and that it was his duty to be emotionally truthful in his books for them.

So much of what I most admire is European in origin. Interestingly Sendak, searching for inspiration when preparing to make his images for The Juniper Tree, came to Europe because he wanted the German landscape to be present in the finished images, and the European illustration (and engraving) traditions, to underpin his version of the Grimm Brothers’ tales.


Sendak’s sketch-book cover (titled Grimm Reise)

During the trip he called off in Wales, where he discovered in the Wye Valley a dramatic, conifer-wooded and mood-drenched landscape he recognised as being the ‘spiritual’ equivalent of what he’d been searching for on the continent.


Sendak’s drawing of the garden in Veddw

Wales became, in part, his stand-in for what he’d expected to find in Germany, and his drawings made in the vicinity of Tintern Abbey, are the beginnings of The Juniper Tree illustrations.


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p.s. Apparently a reproduction of a drawing that Sendak made in his notebook for The Juniper Tree project, labelled ‘Veddw’ is part of a collection in a house in Monmouthshire. Clive Hicks-Jenkins is planning to photograph of it tomorrow, so do return to this blog post to see this. (Special thanks to CHJ.)

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