Master of the World
Here is an amusing drawing by German artist Heinrich Kley. Three naked lovelies pour Champagne down the throat of a prostrate gentleman who seems to be having no difficulty keeping his precariously balanced top hat over his groin. The picture is nicely ambiguous: are the girls trying to entertain him or immobilise him? Is it his fantasy or theirs? Is he really the master of the world or is he deluding himself.
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Kley is an interesting and influential artist who had a huge change of style mid career. Born in Karlsruhe in 1863 he studied at the Karlsruhe Akademie and initially painted landscapes, historical subjects and still-life. Gradually he evolved a talent for portraying industrial scenes and was employed by many of Germany's big factories.
After the Great War, although he was aware of and in contact with expressionist artists he rejected their bold use of colour in favour of pen and ink illustrations. Rather looser than his contemporaries his drawings demonstrate wonderful draftsmanship and a particular facility for rendering the human figure.
Most of his drawing have a fantastical element with certain elements occurring regularly, such as Gulliver like mixes of different sized humans, classical creatures like centaurs and satyrs and anthropomorphised animals.
Travelling in Europe in 1935 Walt Disney collected many of Kley's drawings and may have met him. Disney acknowledged, as did his animators, that Kley was a huge influence on the look of Fantasia (1940) which included sinuous alligators, centaurs and daintily dancing hippos and elephants. In a TV interview in 1964 Disney said: “Without the wonderful drawings of Heinrich Kley, I could not conduct my art school classes for my animators.”
Certainly you can see how his art influenced more recent illustrators and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Frank Frazetta, for one, had seen Kley's drawings.
Kley produced a lot of work for the German art magazine Jugend between the wars but his work seems to have fallen out of favour with the coming of the Nazis (Jugend itself ceased publication in 1940). Kley, essentially, disappeared from the public eye and it's not even known when he died; some time between 1945 and 1952