Konrad Ernst Theophil Kreidolf, self-portrait, 1889, Verein Ernst Kreidolf deposited at Kunstmuseum Bern
Ernst Kreidolf in his workshop in München, circa 1900, Burgerbibliothek Bern
Ernst Kreidolf, circa 1890, Burgerbibliothek Bern
Ernst Kreidolf’s grandfather’s farm in Tägerwilen
Ernst Kreidolf’s grandfather, Johann Konrad Kreidolf, circa 1900, Burgerbibliothek Bern
The Primary School in Tägerwilen, circa 1873
Ernst Kreidolf attending the Kreidolf children’s festival in Davos, circa 1927
From right to left: Julie Meister (his housekeeper), Ernst Kreidolf, Emma Knittel (his niece) and Marguerite Büchner-Paris, in Berne 1953
Konrad Ernst Theophil Kreidolf was born on February 9th 1863 in Berne Switzerland, the second eldest child of the Kreidolf family. His brothers and sisters were Marie Hermine (1861), Emma (1866), Albert (1868), Otto (1871), Clara (1873) and Frieda (1876). In 1868 the family moved to Constance in Germany, where his father opened a toyshop. However, Kreidolf grew up with his grandparents at nearby Taegerwilen in Switzerland because he was expected to inherit his grandfather’s farm. In 1879, he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer at the Lithografische Anstalt Schmidt-Pecht in Constance and also had drawing lessons. After his apprenticeship (1882) Kreidolf stayed on at Schmidt-Pecht for a year, as an assistant, to financially support his parents after the bankruptcy of their business. The sale of his lithography Taegerwilen created a secure financial basis for his artistic education. From 1883 to 1885, Kreidolf attended the Munich School of Arts and Crafts and had a part time job as a lithographic draughtsman. In 1887, after his first attempt was unsuccessful, he passed the exams for the Munich Art Academy. He also attended the Paul Nauen private School of Arts. In Munich he became friends with other artists, including Albert Welti, Wilhelm Balmer and Cuno Amiet.
In 1888 Kreidolf joined the painting classes of Ludwig von Loeffz, however, in the winter of 1889, ill health forced him to give up his studies. He retired to Partenkirchen for six years and during this time he produced, in the main, pictures relating to myths, legends and fairy-tales.
Between 1890 and 1896, Kreidolf taught the hereditary Princess Marie of Schaumburg-Lippe landscape painting. In 1892/93, his first exhibition was held at the Kunstverein in Munich. In 1894, he painted – encouraged by Ferdinand Avenarius – pictures in watercolours that were exhibited in 1897 at the Gallery Arnold in Dresden and attracted interest from several publishers. They were to be the illustrations used in his book Blumenmaerchen (Flower Fairy-tale) published in 1898. However, only a loan from the Princess of Schaumburg-Lippe made the publication of this book by the publishing house Piloty & Loehle possible. Ernst Kreidolf himself lithographed the pictures.
The book received positive attention, and the art historian Josef August Beringer brought Kreidolf to the attention of the poet Richard Dehmel. As a result the two cooperated to produce the verse-book Fitzebutze. This book written by Paula and Richard Dehmel, illustrated by Kreidolf and edited in 1900 at Insel publishing house, was controversial due to its socially critical texts.
The Publisher Hermann Schafstein (from 1904 Schaffstein) signed Kreidolf exclusively to his publishing house that specialised in literature for children and young adults. Once signed to this publisher, Kreidolf’s famous books appeared; in 1901 Die schlafenden Bäume (The Sleeping Trees), in 1902 Die Wiesenzwerge (The Meadow Dwarves), and in 1903 Schwaetzchen fuer Kinder (Chit Chat for Children). In 1904 Kreidolf was involved in Richard Dehmel’s Buntscheck, ein Sammelbuch für Kinder (Patchwork, a Scrap-book for Children). In 1905 the book Alte Kinderreime (Old Nursery Rhymes) appeared followed by in 1908 Sommervoegel (Butterflies). The latter was highly acclaimed by Hermann Hesse. In 1911 Der Gartentraum (The Garden Dream) was published.
Kreidolf still lived in Munich and in 1904 joined the Association of Die Walze – a union of Swiss artists, the members of which were almost all well-known Swiss painters and graphic artists living in Munich. In 1901 Kreidolf joined the Bund zeichnender Künstler (Society of Illustrators). In 1905 he made a field trip to Italy and in 1906, a major exhibition of his works was shown at the Kuenstlerhaus in Zurich. Kreidolf, who was now recognized by critics and widely known for his picture books also painted landscapes, portraits and pictures with spiritual themes.
In 1917 Kreidolf returned to Switzerland and settled in Berne. Wilhelm Fraenger wrote the first monograph on him. In St. Moritz, he met Emil Roniger, who founded the Rotapfel publishing house a little later and became Kreidolf’s publisher. Between 1920 and 1935, several new books appeared at almost yearly intervals: In 1920 Blumen Ritornelle (Flower Chorus), in 1922 Alpenblumenmaerchen (Alpine Flower Fairy-tales), in 1924 Ein Wintermaerchen (A Winter’s Fairy-tale), in 1926 Lenzgesind (Servants of the Spring), in 1928 Das Hundefest (The Dogs’ Party), in 1929 Bei den Gnomen und Elfen (With the Gnomes and Elves), in 1931 Grashupfer (The Grasshopper), in 1932 Aus versunk´nen Gärten (From the Sunken Gardens) and in 1935 Die Himmelreich-Wiese (The Kingdom of Heaven Meadow).
In 1922 Kreidolf became a member of the Berne Art Society and of the committee for new acquisitions for the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts) in Berne. In 1923, a big solo exhibition was shown at the Kunsthaus Zurich and in 1933 there was an extensive retrospective at the Kunsthalle Berne and Kreidolf was created a doctor honoris causa of the University of Berne. In 1934, Kreidolf’s last children’s book appeared, Die Himmelreich-Wiese (The Kingdom of Heaven Meadow). In 1955 he was honoured to receive the Swiss teachers’ Prize for young adults’ books (Jugendbuchpreis).
Ernst Kreidolf died on August 12, 1956 in Berne.
Kreidolf’s children’s books were republished after the Second World War a number of times and are as popular today as they ever were. Kreidolf’s role in the artistic development of children’s picture books was shown in several exhibitions. His position within the framework of Swiss art of the 20th century was showcased at the exhibition in 2006 in Berne: Ernst Kreidolf und seine Malerfreunde (Ernst Kreidolf and his painter friends).
Ernst Kreidolf’s literary estate is kept at the Burgerbibliothek in Berne and the Kunstmuseum (The Museum of Fine Arts) in Berne takes care of his artistic legacy that belongs to the “Verein Ernst Kreidolf”.