Heinrich Kley was born April 15, 1863, in Karlsruhe, Germany, and studied art with Ferdinand Keller at the Karlsruhe Akademy and with C. Frithjob Smith in Munich. He started out as an illustrator and a painter of murals, focussing on portraits, still lifes, animals, and landscapes.

By the turn of the century Kley’s interest changed to modern industrial life, including factories, blast furnaces, ship docks, industrial buildings, and machinery. One of his best-known oil paintings from this time period is "Tiegelstahlguss bei Krupp" (Crucible steel casting with Krupp). Click for larger image:

He also did architectural paintings of building exteriors in Old Munich, Nuremberg, Bruchsal, Dresden, the harbor of Kiel, Paris, Ostende, and the island of Helgoland in the North Sea.

With his move to Munich he mostly gave up painting to concentrate on drawing with pen and ink. His work was imbued with his sarcastic wit, and he quickly became famous for his work that appeared in the magazines Jugend and Simplizissimus.

In 1937 the new Coronet Magazine in the United States published Kley's drawings in three consecutive issues, and he became wildly famous with American audiences. Three years later his work inspired the Disney artists who created the film Fantasia. According to Disney animator Joe Grant, both Kley and T.S. Sullivant (see below) were enormous influences on the look of the film.

"The Dance of the Hours," a ballet with music from Ponchielli's opera Gioconda, features dancing animals that could be right out of the pages of one of Kley's sketchbooks.

Conflicting sources have the date of Heinrich Kley's death as either 1945 or 1952. Whatever the truth is, his popularity is bigger than ever. Two volumes of his work were published by Dover Books; Bantam Books has used Kley drawings for some of their paperback book covers, and Atlas and Motive magazines have also used his work. His art even found its way onto a poster for the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, which probably would have amused the artist — a man who never shied from a chance to throw his India-ink-tipped barbs at the System.