White as Snow and Red as Blood: The Art of Snow White

Revanna concept art by Jeff Simpson for Snow White and the Huntsman.

Just over 200 years ago, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first volume of 86 stories culled from European folk tradition and memories. This collection of fairy tales, criticized as too dark and violent for children even upon its first release, included a well-known tale of a young girl of great beauty, white as snow and red as blood, the object of intense jealousy by her wicked mother.Concept Art Illustration for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Joe Grant via filmic-light.

Believed to date to at least the 1500’s, the story of Snow White (Sneewittchen or Schneeweißchen to the German Grimm brothers) was popular across Europe, with similar tales known in Italy, Greece, Armenia, and Scotland (an interesting version that ends with a revived Snow White in a polygamous relationship with her Prince). Although this tale has parallels to many common folk motifs, there is something about Snow White, a certain darkness that has lingered through its many retellings and modernizations, a shadow that is cast across the artwork inspired by this grim fable.

Over time, some of the more ghastly elements of the story of Snow White have disappeared or softened, as her mother became her step-mother and no longer attempts to satiate her jealousy by eating her daughter’s heart and entrails, nor is she punished at the tale’s conclusion by being forced to dance in a pair of burning shoes until she dies. Yet the inherent ghastliness of the legend persists, defying even the effect of Disneyfication, as seen in the somber concept art for their 1937 animated version, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Evil Queen Concept Art, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

As the first full-length cel animated feature in film history, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a major financial gamble for Disney, taking years of art and concept development. The animation style was influenced by a variety of media, including German expressionist films (and early silent horror classics) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, creating shadowy backgrounds, grotesque transformations, and evil, living trees that menaced and writhed.

This legacy has continued to influence artists in the eight decades since Disney’s Snow White release, most recently with the wickedly elegant Revanna, the dark Queen in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, an influence clearly felt in the gallery below of collected Snow White art and illustration.

A collection of early and modern Snow White concept art can be found at Concept Art World, or visit Animation Tidbits for vintage Disney Snow White storyboards. For more art by Jeff Simpson, visit his DeviantArt page. To see more Snow White inspiration, watch the original 1916 silent film version, or read up on the intriguing historical parallels to the death by poison of young Margaretha von Waldeck in the 16th century.

Related Posts:

– In the Gray Wood-Mist: Denise Grünstein’s Dark Fairy Tale Photography

– Friday Night Features: “The Little Mermaid”

– If You Go Down in the Woods Today: Evil Teddy Bear Makeup Tutorial

Categories: Art & Inspiration

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20 replies

  1. Oooh, I love this! And that concept art for Snow White and the Huntsman is simply stunning!

  2. Now you’re speaking my language.

  3. Wow, some amazing artwork here. Nice post.

  4. The wicked queen was her mom? Dancing in burning shoes… until she died?? WOW! Oh, sweetie. I want to see THAT version! 🙂

    • You can find a translation of the original 1812 version here. Anne Sexton wrote an intriguing piece based on the original version in the 1970’s – I have always loved the ending:

      First your toes will smoke
      and then your heels will turn black
      and you will fry upward like a frog,
      she was told.
      And so she danced until she was dead,
      a subterranean figure,
      her tongue flicking in and out
      like a gas jet.
      Meanwhile Snow White held court,
      rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
      and sometimes referring to her mirror
      as women do.

  5. Have you seen Blacanieves the recent Spanish silent interpretation? It’s quite lovely set in 1920s Spain, Snow’s dad is a matador and her mum a flamenco dancer and the stepmother is really horrid. I think you’d like it

  6. This has always been one of my favorites. I love the Grim Brothers!

  7. I would love to read the original story by the Grims. Beautiful artwork for such a macabre story.

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