Heinrich Kley is best remembered today for satirical, despairing, and often obscene images which demonstrate a maniacal distrust of the industrial revolution and its automatized society. But not only did he express the disillusionment of modernity through drawings, his imaginative works played a large role in the career of Walt Disney, arguably America’s greatest animator.
Kley’s scathing and deftly rendered creations resonated with audiences and he became a leading interpreter of the follies and vices of the 20th century. These psychological allegories employed anthropomorphized animals, inanimate objects and fantastical beings cavorting in the dark fairy tale landscapes of their creator’s mind. These scenes were incredibly influential on Walt Disney. In a 1964 television interview Walt said, “Without the wonderful drawings of Heinrich Kley, I could not conduct my art school classes for my animators.”
According to film historian John Culhane, “The tradition of caricaturing human aspirations with animal analogies stretches from Grandville and Tenniel to T.S. Sullivant and Heinrich Kley. It is a tradition that Disney artists had been consciously studying since the early thirties.” The images in Kley’s art directly inspired a number of animated sequences and characters, including “Night on Bald Mountain” and the dancing animals of “Dance of the Hours” in Fantasia.
The Walt Disney Family Museum exhibited a collection of Kley’s sketches and Disney’s Fantasia-n counterparts in 2012’s Heinrich Kley: From Fantasy to Fantasia.