"All the while that Violet and her sisters [the Vivian Girls] had been back in Abbieannia since the war ended, the weather had been good and perfect... The flowers were plentiful and what was to make the scenery still more beautiful was the appearance of so many beautiful Bengiglomenean creatures everyday."
- Henry Darger (as transcribed in Michael Bonesteel, Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings (New York, 2000), p. 232.)
Henry Darger is widely recognized as one of the stars of Outsider Art and increasingly, as an incredibly important presence in Modern and Contemporary Art. His large-scale horizontal-format watercolor drawings chronicle events and scenes from a mythical world of his own creation.
The artist had a difficult childhood. Having lost both parents by age eight, he found stability in a job as a janitor at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. Outside a brief stint in the army in late 1917, he worked in area hospitals from age seventeen until his retirement in 1963. If by day Darger led an unremarkable existence, by night, in a tiny apartment in Chicago’s North Side, he created a magnificent, fantastical world in watercolor and in words. His magnum opus, a 15,000-page typed manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, tells the story of a great war on an imaginary planet where child slaves, led by a group of pre-teens called the Vivian Girls, engaged in a series of battles with their adult overlords to gain freedom. Though he finished his manuscript in the 1930s, he continued to illustrate his world long after he finished the text.
This important double-sided six-panel work renders children, including the Vivian Girls, alongside winged figures with serpent-like tails, which Darger referred to as Blengiglomenean creatures, in a scene of calm. Both sides of this piece depict harmony, serving to break up the tense and pugnacious vignettes that punctuate Darger's world, though through his titles Darger hints at hardship in a previous panel (in the form of a storm) and possibly in a subsequent panel (in the journey to Manley Camp). However, it is possible that this piece depicts the end of the war, as General Manley's surrender may have been the purpose for the journey on the verso (189).
The weather in Darger's watercolors often correlates with action within the narrative episode depicted, and the peaceful scenes in the present work are reinforced through clear skies and green pastures. Additionally, Darger’s figures and animals are created in part through carbon transfers of popular print sources including magazines, packaging, illustrated books and coloring books. This technique is especially evident on the verso (189), where the dog, lamb, and child dressed as Little Red Riding Hood seem almost directly transposed from print media.
Darger’s work is in the collections of major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the American Folk Art Museum, New York, and the Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland.