Eyvind Earle, an eclectic artist who painted backgrounds for Disney's classic films "Sleeping Beauty" and "Lady and the Tramp," designed more than 800 top-selling Christmas cards and placed his highly stylized fantasy landscapes in galleries and museums around the world, has died. He was 84.
Earle died Thursday of esophageal cancer in Monterey, Calif., said Ioan Szasz, managing director of the Joan and Eyvind Earle publishing company in Monterey.
An established artist by the time he was tapped by Walt Disney, Earle gave the 1959 "Sleeping Beauty" its magical, medieval look. One of his preliminary paintings for the greatly loved animated fairy tale sold for $29,000 in 1991. He also painted the dioramas for Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim.
Earle intrigued Disney in 1953 when he created the look of "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," an animated short that won an Academy Award and a Cannes Film Festival award.
Disney kept the artist busy for the rest of the decade, painting the settings for such stories as "Peter Pan," "For Whom the Bulls Toil," "Working for Peanuts," "Pigs Is Pigs" and "Paul Bunyan," as well as "Lady and the Tramp," with "Sleeping Beauty" as his motion picture capstone.
In 1998, at its Annie Awards program in Glendale, the International Animated Film Society gave Earle its Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement.
Earle's work was also seen on television. One of his animated creations was an 18-minute version of the story of the Nativity that he did in 1963 for Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Story of Christmas Special." A Daily Variety reviewer said Earle's sequence "should be preserved and played back for years on end." The singer's foundation had the show digitally remastered in 1997.
Earle also created an animated Easter special for television and several animated television commercials for cars, cereal and cigarettes.
Born in New York, the precocious Earle first took up his paintbrush at age 10 when his father gave him a challenging choice: Read 50 pages of a book or paint a picture every day. Earle chose both.
His parents' divorce only broadened Earle's artistic education. His father, determined to have custody of the boy, took him around the world, living sporadically in Mexico, Cuba, Spain, Holland, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Corsica. The boy painted the scenes he saw, and at age 13 had his first exhibition, in a gallery in Ascain, France.
A year later, Earle left his father to join his mother in Hollywood. He dropped out of Fairfax High School shortly before his graduation to work as a sketch artist at United Artists studios.
By age 20, he was showing his work in galleries in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. At 21, he bicycled across the country, paying his way by painting 42 watercolors. He sold his first watercolor to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was 23.
In the 1940s, Earle adapted his creative landscapes to Christmas cards, painting more than 800 designs that have sold more than 300 million copies, according to Szasz.
In 1948, a Times art critic described an exhibition of Earle's work at the Hartwell Galleries in Los Angeles, praising his "lyrical, broadly washed watercolors . . . depict[ing] flowers, mountains, landscape, lone trees, fruit, even a cabbage, in precisely drawn rhythmical line and strong colors."
"The results," the critic wrote, "are highly decorative and delight as much by their detail as by their good composition."
After about 15 years of creating animated art, Earle returned to painting full time in 1966 and kept working until near the end of his life. In addition to his watercolors, oils and graphics, in 1974 he began making serigraphs. Among his most collected works of that type are his fantasy landscapes of California, such as "Mystical Big Sur," "Mendocino" and "Cachuma Ranch."
"For 70 years," Earle wrote in 1996, "I've painted paintings, and I'm constantly and everlastingly overwhelmed at the stupendous infinity of Nature. Wherever I turn and look, there I see creation. Art is creating. . . . Art is the search for truth."
Earle is survived by his wife, Joan; a daughter, Kristin Thompson of Seattle; a brother, Ferdinand of Los Angeles; and a grandson.
Services are private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the American Cancer Society.