The Polar Bear in Art
Considering the great respect and spiritual attachment the polar bear has, I would expect it to be featured more often in Golden Age illustration.
The great white bear has been the subject of folk tales and legends told for centuries by the Inuits and other indigenous people of the Arctic. Their stories are of polar bears teaching men to hunt, a cub adopted by a childless woman and the terrifying Nanurluk, a bear the size of an iceberg.
The Norwegian folk tales tell of men transformed into bears by evil trolls, hags or witches, wandering the tundra in search of a true love who will break the spell.
Happily, two of my favourite artists provided polar bear illustrations for such tales, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac.
The first is Nielsen’s White Bear from the Norwegian folk tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. The bear carries his future bride to a magic castle;
“Well, mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing to fear,” said the Bear, so she rode a long, long way.
Eventually, through determination and a knowledge of how to remove candle wax from a shirt, the girl gets a prince and the bear gets the girl.
Below is Dulac’s Snow Maiden from The Dreamer of Dreams. The hero comes across a large number of polar bears.
They came slowly towards him, quiet and majestic, slightly swinging their heavy bodies as they glided onwards.
They accompany a snow maiden, gathering broken hearts;
Everything about her was white, glistening and shining ; so shining that the human eye could hardly bear the radiance. her long white hair hung about her ; a circle of glow-worms surrounded her forehead.
To see all illustrations by Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac, just click on the cards below – and thanks for visiting 🙂