inspiring walt disney
now on view to the public, inspiring walt disney: the animation of french decorative arts marks the first-ever exhibition at the MET to explore the work of walt disney and the hand-drawn animation of the walt disney animation studios. the show explores the dialogue between the iconic films and the historic works of european art which inspired the vision.
the show is organized between a selection of disney’s early shorts, key full-length films, and castles to reveal the themes which span centuries of french decorative arts — the medieval depiction of landscape, the opulent ornamentation of the 18th century rococo, and gothic architecture. the show will be on view at the MET from december 10th 2021 until march 6th, 2022.
sèvres manufactory, covered vase in the form of a tower, ca. 1762 | image courtesy huntington art museum
header: gallery view, photo by paul lachenauer, courtesy of the MET © disney
disney meets european opulence at the met
as part of inspiring walt disney: the animation of french decorative arts, the metropolitan museum of art (see more here) shows sixty works of european design alongside 150 disney production artworks and works on paper. also on view, film footage illustrates the studio’s artistic and technological developments during and beyond walt disney’s lifetime.
one constant theme revealed through the retrospective is the concept of ‘animating the inanimate.’ one of the show’s first sections shows an early instance of anthropomorphized objects through the story sketches for two of disney’s shorts: the clock store (1931) and the china shop (1934). alongside the films is a collection of french and german rococo porcelain figurines which highlight the clear influence.
left: narcissa niblack thorne, french boudoir of the louis XV period, 1740-60, miniature room ca. 1937 | the art institute of chicago / art resource, NY
right: mary blair, cinderella, concept art, 1950 | walt disney animation research library © disney
walt disney’s early trips to europe were a source of inspiration from which he and his studios drew throughout his life. his travels also sparked his passion for collecting and building miniature furniture, revealing the creativity he would employ in overseeing the creation of the new ‘worlds’ of his parks and films. a selection of these miniature objects will be displayed alongside personal film footage of disney and his family visiting paris and versailles.
similar 18th century interiors are echoed through the show’s cinderella (1950) section. this section further spotlights the barrier-breaking female artists who entered the creative realm of the disney studios, including bianca majolie and mary blair. original paintings show blair’s bold and colorful style which informed the look of the studios’ feature films of the 1940s and early 1950s.
left: meissen manufactory, johann joachim kändler, faustina bordoni and fox, 1743 | the metropolitan museum of art
right: mary blair, cinderella, background painting, 1950 | walt disney animation research library © disney
beauty and the beast
the next series of galleries at the MET’s inspiring walt disney is devoted to beauty and the beast (1991), which walt disney himself had suggested for animation in the 1940s and 1950s. the tale was first published in 1740 by suzanne-gabrielle barbot de villeneuve, although a later, abridged adaptation (1756) by jeanne-marie leprince de beaumont is more widely known. the expansive section will explore topics of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism in 18th-century french literature and decorative arts, disney’s satirical take on rococo fashion, the interiors of the movie’s enchanted castle, and the design and animation of the beast and other characters.
meissen manufactory, johann gottlieb kirchner, lion (one of a pair), 1732 | the metropolitan museum of art
preparatory movie sketches shown alongside familiar 18th-century clocks, candlesticks, and teapots will illustrate the ways in which both disney animators and rococo craftspeople sought to breathe life into what is essentially inanimate. one exhibit gives focus to beast’s transformation scene, animated by glen keane and inspired by sculptor auguste rodin’s the burghers of calais, as well as the ballroom scene, whose vast architectural backdrop drew on the hall of mirrors at versailles. a ‘be our guest‘ table display recalls the glittering silver and porcelain buffets at versailles and other european courts.
left: case attributed to andré charles boulle after a design by jean berain, clock by jacques III thuret or more likely his father, isaac II thuret, clock with pedestal, 1690 | the metropolitan museum of art
right: peter j. hall, beauty and the beast, concept art, 1991 | walt disney animation research library © disney
left: after designs by juste aurèle meissonnier, one of a pair of candlesticks (flambeaux or chandeliers), 1735–50 | the metropolitan museum of art
right: kevin lima, beauty and the beast, concept art, 1991 | walt disney animation research library © disney
the exhibition highlights the medieval sources that disney artist eyvind earle consulted for the style of sleeping beauty (1959). the hunt of the unicorn tapestries (1495–1505) from the MET cloisters’ collection are credited for providing a starting point for the film’s visual development. woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk, the iconic tapestries present an idealized depiction of the french landscape.
disney artist john hench visited the MET cloisters in the early 1950s and brought home to california reproductions of the famous tapestries, suggesting them as a visual template for sleeping beauty. while these originals still hang at the cloisters, the inspiring walt disney exhibition displays a comparable tapestry, shepherd and shepherdess making music, from the same cultural context.
eyvind earle, sleeping beauty, concept art, 1959 | walt disney animation research library © disney
the medieval influence on the film’s style extended beyond the landscape depictions. illustrated pages from the prop storybook for sleeping beauty are adorned with the decorative typeface and margin art typical among literature of the era. on display at the MET, the sheets used in the film recall one of the most well-known works of art of the late middle ages: the limbourg brothers’ book of hours les três riches heures du duc de berry (1412–16).
exhibition view | image © designboom
gallery view, photo © designboom
gallery view, photo by paul lachenauer, courtesy of the MET © disney
meissen manufactory, decoration attributed to the aufenwerth workshop, teapot with cover, ca. 1719–30 | the metropolitan museum of art, new york
peter j. hall, beauty and the beast, concept art, 1991 | walt disney animation research library © disney
mel shaw, beauty and the beast, concept art, 1991 | walt disney animation research library © disney
disney studio artist, the china shop, story sketch, 1934 | walt disney animation research library © disney
frank armitage, le chateau de la belle au bois dormant, disneyland paris, 1988 | walt disney imagineering collection © disney