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Erik Blegvad; illustrated children’s books; at 90

Erik Blegvad

Erik Blegvad

NEW YORK — Erik Blegvad, a prolific children’s book artist renowned for illustrations whose fine-grained propriety could barely conceal the deep subversive wit at their core, died Jan. 14 in London. He was 90. His son Peter confirmed the death.

A native of Denmark who had long divided his time between London and the United States, Mr. Blegvad was possessed of a style that on its surface was comfortingly Old World: He worked primarily in meticulous pen and ink, with some forays into watercolor.

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His illustrations were characterized by elongated figures that recall the art of Edward Gorey and by dense crosshatchings that suggest the early Maurice Sendak.

Mr. Blegvad illustrated more than 100 picture books, including many by his wife, the writer and artist Lenore Blegvad. One is “This Little Pig-a-Wig and Other Rhymes About Pigs” (1978) was named one of the best illustrated children’s books of the year by The New York Times Book Review.

His other books include Mary Norton’s “Bed-Knob and Broomstick” (1957), whose cover, featuring a four-poster sailing through the air, is familiar to most anyone under 60 .

Throughout his career, he saw his role as subservient to the writer’s. “Illustrating a children’s book gives me a role which seems natural, accompanist rather than soloist,” he wrote in “Self-Portrait” (1979).

His art was no less powerful for that approach. Reviewing Mr. Blegvad’s picture book “Peter and the Troll Baby” (1984; text by Jan Wahl) in The Times Book Review, Joe McGinniss wrote that he “has created the finest, hairiest, scariest trolls I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Blegvad was also noted for illustrating texts by his countrymen, including Hans Christian Andersen and the writer and illustrator N.M. Bodecker, a friend since their art-school days in Copenhagen.

Erik Blegvad was born in Copenhagen on March 3, 1923. As a youth, planning a career as an airplane mechanic, he apprenticed in a machine shop. He left the shop after the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, when it began doing work for the Nazis.

He entered the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts. Although he described himself as having been a poor student there, he was allowed to graduate — a function, he later said, of his having spent several days in a Nazi prison for distributing Danish resistance literature.

Mr. Blegvad, who moved with his wife to the United States in 1951 and contributed illustrations to magazines, maintained a home in West Wardsboro, Vt., for many years.

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