The exhibition “From Haapsalu to Bullerbü: The imagery of Ilon Wikland”

A new exhibition celebrating the works of artist Ilon Wikland has opened in Hannover, Germany. Until February 19, 2023, visitors can experience 250 original artworks from stories like Karlsson on the Roof and Lillebror, Mio, My Son, Lotta on Troublemaker Street, The Brothers Lionheart, and Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter at the Wilhelm Busch Museum. 

Ilon Wikland was born in Tartu in 1930 and spent her childhood in Haapsalu on the west coast of Estonia in her grandparents’ house after her parents separated. In 1944, fearing deportation by the Red Army, her grandparents sent the 14-year-old grand- daughter into exile in Sweden, where she was taken in by an aunt. The young homeless woman found refuge and salvation in drawing.

Ilon Wikland’s daughter, Fredrika Wikland, at the opening of “From Haapsalu to Bullerbü: The imagery of Ilon Wikland”.

She also collaborated with many other authors and later wrote her own texts, focusing on her childhood in Estonia and her dramatic escape to Sweden. ‘The Long, Long Journey’ is the name of Ilon Wikland’s autobiographical work – the only book illustrated by her in which the illustrations were created before the text. It tells of her childhood in Haapsalu, Estonia. Wikland’s childhood is marked by disruptions. In the book, which was published in 1996, she deals with the war, her escape to Sweden, and her subsequent serious illness.

Illustration from The Long, Long Journey, © Design Ilon Wikland AB

The exhibition at the Wilhelm Busch Museum features around 250 original illustrations by Ilon Wikland from the 1950s to the present day, showing the artistic development but also constants in Ilon Wikland’s visual language. These include the characteristic depictions of children, such as the recurring motif of the lonely child at the window or door, romping children, or table scenes, which run like a thread through Wikland’s work. At the same time, the fine, often colored pen-and-ink drawings show how the image of the child changed in the second half of the 20th century.

Illustration from Lotta on Troublemaker Street.

In the early illustrations, with a consistently simple central-perspective composition, the children appear well-behaved, neatly dressed and neatly coiffed. Since the 1970s, Wikland has increasingly used the cinematic means of changing perspectives and draws the children’s figures much more freely. This development can be seen particularly well in Ilon Wikland’s illustrations of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books. One focus of the exhibition is devoted to them.

A second focus is on the autobiographical picture books that show Ilon Wikland’s childhood in Estonia against the backdrop of the looming threat of Stalinism and World War II. The exhibition is rounded off by a selection of historical photographs, which clearly show the deep roots of Ilon Wikland’s imagery in the memories of her childhood in Haapsalu. The exhibition also features displays of books, including the German and Swedish first editions of Astrid Lindgren’s and Ilon Wikland’s children’s books.

From Haapsalu to Bullerbü: The imagery of Ilon Wikland is open November 12, 2022 until February 19, 2023 at Wilhelm Busch – Deutsches Museum für Karikatur & Zeichenkunst in Hannover. More info can be found on the Wilhelm Busch museum’s website.