Things that quicken the heart...The magical paper cuts of Hans Christian Andersen
I had the pleasure of seeing some of these wonders at an exhibition shown here in Dublin= Cut-Outs and Cut-Ups: Hans Christian Andersen and William Seward Burroughs.
”Det hele er Andersens poesi
Broget, løjerligt alleslags,
alt med en saks!”
(In Andersen's paper-cuts you see
A medley of diverting treasures
All done with scissors.)
The fact that Andersen could create such delicate patterns and gossamery, graceful dancers out of a thickly folded piece of paper with the help of a crude, heavy pair of scissors was pure magic in the eyes of children. The eldest of the daughters at Holsteinsborg Manor remembered in particular, later in life as a grown-up baroness, the light, delicate dolls Andersen had cut for her out of white paper and which she afterwards had placed on the table and blown at carefully so that they fluttered back and forth: “He always cut with an enormous pair of paper scissors, and I simply couldn’t understand how he could cut such pretty, delicate things with his big hands and this enormous pair of scissors.”
This was Hans Christian Andersen’s own explanation of a highly spectacular page in Astrid Stampes Billedbog from 1853, where seven or eight little cuttings from twice as many pieces of paper in all sorts of colours and patterns merge into one big picture. And this is also how we must regard Andersen’s paper art: as something colourful, diverting and poetic that is extremely closely linked to his lyric poetry, drama, fairy-tales, novels and travel books. Andersen’s paper-cuts cannot just be separated from his written oeuvre and placed beside it.
About 1,000 paper-cuts of all sizes still exist to this day – primitive figures and simple tableaux as well as more ornamental, sophisticated cuttings. They belong to a world of their own, but they all have their roots in precisely the same rich, widely embracing creative imagination which in the nineteenth century revolutionized world literature with a long series of fairy-tales told for children and for the child in every adult. This is why Andersen’s many paper-cuts cannot be dismissed, as they often have been in Andersen research, as mere diversions and little games or just be regarded as funny, entertaining illustrations of what is really at stake and essential: Andersen’s fairy-tale world in writing.
more papercuts at the Royal Library