Erik Werenskiold, "Prinsessen som ingen kunne målbinde" (detail), 1884
Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Dag André Ivarsøy

Around 150 years ago, there were very few picture books for children in Norway. Fairy tales were transmitted orally from one generation to the next. Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812–85) travelled the country collecting the fairy tales people told him. He collaborated with Jørgen Moe (1813–82) on writing the texts and preparing them for publication in book form. Later, Asbjørnsen wanted to produce illustrated books of fairy tales for children. 

The first fully illustrated book of fairy tales was published in 1879, followed by three more volumes in the period 1883–87. The drawings by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen for these fairy tales hold a special place in Norwegian illustration history and are often regarded as the classic fairy tale illustrations. 

Creating images for the fairy tales was a central task in Norway’s efforts to build a national identity in the 19th century. Today, these drawings are an important part of the cultural heritage that Norwegians seek to pass on to younger generations. 

The museum’s collection contains many of the original drawings for Asbjørnsen and Moe’s illustrated editions of the fairy tales. They are rarely exhibited because the old paper turns yellow and the ink fades when exposed to too much light. If you want to see the drawings close up, you are welcome to visit the study room, where we will fetch them from our treasure trove for you.

Over the years, many new editions of the fairy tales have been published. Other artists regularly produce exciting new visual interpretations of the fairy tale texts. Authors also invent new stories featuring the main characters from the fairy tales, but with unfamiliar traits. 

Fairy tales, or folk tales, are found all over the world. Maybe you know similar stories from another country?