A narrow winding staircase off the main reference library in the Bilderbuchmuseum (see detailed review here) leads to a secluded cozy reading space tucked away in the turret at the top of the castle’s tower. The soft lines of the rounded walls, a comfortable bench with cushions, views of the park through the French windows, dimmed brightness of daylight – everything here begs to slow down and savour a book or two or just gaze through those windows to quieten the mind, which is still buzzing from “all that jazz” of the Bilderbuchmuseum displays downstairs.
So in this most inviting of spaces, hoping for a quiet repose I pick this random book from the shelf… And does it quieten the mind? Anything but…
The story of “Hensel and Gretel” by Brothers Grimm is so well-known that language barrier is not an issue (most books in the Bilderbuchmuseum are in German). But even if it was an issue, the pictures convincingly tell the story on their own. I was not familiar with Susanne Janssen’s art until that day. Her murky Hensel and Gretel stunned. A very familiar fairy tale rendered weirdly, strangely, meekly… Have found myself forcibly re-living the awful act of the parents abandoning their two young children to die in the scary dark forest! Could the other, the “normal”, the sweeter “Hensel and Gretel” pictures, which many of us are used to, could they do justice to the gravity of those parents’ offence? Janssen’s rendering certainly fits this horrible story like a glove,
These pictures made me question again: what are book illustrations – art or craft? (see more on this here). When an artist’s vision and style are so unique that illustrations have the power to grab attention and hold it, I tend to think of it as art. Some argue that this goes beyond the mission of illustrations, which should be subordinate to the text not overtaking it and that if anything such illustrations demonstrate an artist’s ego at play… Opinions are divided on this and that’s all right.
I could not find much information on Susanne Jannsen’s creative journey, unfortunately, other than that she was born in Aachen in Germany, studied graphic design in Dusseldorf’s University of Applied Sciences and now lives in France. Here are some googled images of the other books she illustrated (so curious to see what’s behind all of these covers):