Tomi Ungerer (1931- 2019)


Zurich: Diogenes, 1974
Transl. into German by Anna von Cramer-Klett
[32] fol., pen-and-ink, watercolour
28 x 22 cm, pictorial cardboard covers 

OE: New York: Parents’ Magazine Press, 1974

The sub-title reads: “A fable, with due respect to Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm Brothers, and the Honorable Ambrose Bierce”
The book and its history

An early version of this story appeared in Queen magazine in 1965 under the title "Elveda, the Little Match Girl," based on a story by satirist Ambrose Bierce.

"Allumette" is the French word for match. The front and back endpapers of this picture book feature a page-filling reproduction of a matchbox with a portrait of a dark-haired girl holding an oversized match like a scepter or weapon. The title lettering "Allumette" on the cover image and half title is composed of partially broken matches. Even before readers have read the dedication to Hans Christian Andersen on the inside title, they will have combined the familiar references. 

Tomi Ungerer adapts Andersen's sad fairy tale. His bold strokes caricaturing the figures, the dark colors, the calculated alternation of image formats tell of poverty and chaos while at the same time allowing for whimsical miracles. The nightmare turns into a positive utopia, not without subversive references to the evils of society that stand in the way of a development toward more humanity.

Just how much Ungerer plays with our culture's traditional stock of images is also illustrated by the title illustration of this edition. It shows Allumette in the classic pose of a medieval Madonna, wrapped in a mantle-like quilt and pressing a ham to her heart. She is framed by a wreath of sausages that surrounds her like a medallion.

Biographical note

Tomi Ungerer, born 1931 in Strasbourg, died 2019 in Cork, Ireland, spent most of his life in Ireland. He is one of the most internationally known and admired contemporary illustrators. Large parts of his diverse oeuvre of over 140 books and some 40,000 drawings have found a home in the Musée Tomi Ungerer in Strasbourg since 2007.

Ungerer began drawing as a child. He attended the École Municipale des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg only briefly in the years 1953 -1954, then worked as a decorative painter and printmaker and saw himself as a self-taught artist. His move to New York in 1956, where he initially made his living as a commercial artist and cartoonist, became formative. Impressed by illustrators such as Edward Gorey, William Steig, and Saul Steinberg, his first children's book, "The Mellops Go Flying," appeared in 1957 and immediately won an award. More picture books followed, an award in 1959 with the gold medal of the New York Society of Illustrators, numerous independent works such as social satires and cartoons, revealing, satirical-erotic drawings and many more children's books, a total of about 70.

In 1971, Ungerer moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, leaving behind the New York art world to live in the countryside. In 1976, he moved to Ireland. From the mid-70s until well into the 90s, Ungerer did not draw any children's books. With "Otto" (1999), a children's story about the expulsion of the Jews by the Nazis, he returned as one of the great children's book artists. In 1998, he received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the most prestigious international award in this field, for his life-time achievements in the field of children's and youth literature. In the spring of 2015, the New York Drawing Center honored him with the retrospective "All in One".

In the video “Tomi Ungerer on Writing for Children” on his official homepage, Ungerer emphasizes the importance of words for his children's books: "every word is a part of a possible poem"; it is "the greatest luxury in the world to be able to write and to draw". His stories start with an idea, then he draws and writes "and with the writing then things are coming together".


Official homepage -

Musée Tomi Ungerer
Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, 2007
Museum Tomi Ungerer
Werkkatalog zur ständigen Ausstellung
Zürich: Diogenes 2008
Tomi Ungerer et New York
Straßburg: Musées de Strasbourg et Éditions La Nuée Bleue 2001
Maurice Sendak, 
Caldecott & Co. Notes on Books and Pictures.
New YorK: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988 (pp. 133).

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