Zwerger, Lisbeth 1954-

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Zwerger, Lisbeth 1954-


Surname pronounced "tsvair-ger"; born May 26, 1954, in Vienna, Austria; daughter of Reinhold (a designer) and Waltraut (a medical assistant) Zwerger; married John Rowe (an artist), January 19, 1984. Education: Attended Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst (Vienna, Austria), 1971-74.


Home—Vienna, Austria. Agent—Michael Neugebauer, Minedition, Am Gertenfeld 6, 22941 Bargteheide, Germany.


Illustrator. Worked part-time for an insurance company. Exhibitions: Illustrative work has been shown in Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.

Awards, Honors

Bologna International Children's Book Fair honor, 1978, for The Strange Child, 1980, for Hansel and Gretel, 1982, for The Swineherd, 1986, for The Deliverers of Their Country, and 1987, for The Canterville Ghost; International Biennial of Illustration, Bratislava, honor diploma, 1979, for Hansel and Gretel and The Legend of the Rose Petal, Gold Plaquette, 1981, for Thumbeline, and 1983, for The Seven Ravens and Little Red Cap, and Golden Apple award, 1985, for Selfish Giant; New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year designation, 1982, for Little Red Cap, 1983, for The Gift of the Magi, 1996, for The Wizard of Oz, 1997, for Noah's Ark; Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, 1990.



(Reteller) Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake, translated by Marianne Martens, North-South (New York, NY), 2002.


E.T.A. Hoffmann, Das fremde Kind, Neugebauer (Salzburg, Austria), 1977, translated as The Strange Child, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1984.

Clemens Brentano, Das Maerchen von Rosenblaettchen, Neugebauer (Salzburg, Austria), 1978, translated as The Legend of the Rose Petal, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1985.

Jakob and Wilhelm K. Grimm, Hansel and Gretel, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford, Morrow (New York, NY), 1979.

E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nussknacker und Mausekönig, Neugebauer (Salzburg, Austria), 1979, adapted and translated by Anthea Bell as The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1983, retold by Susanne Koppe and published with new illustrations as The Nutcracker, North-South (New York, NY), 2004.

Hans Christian Andersen, Thumbeline, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.

Jakob and Wilhelm K. Grimm, The Seven Ravens, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford, Morrow (New York, NY), 1981.

Hans Christian Andersen, The Swineherd, translated by Anthea Bell, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Minedition (New York, NY), 2008.

O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1982.

Jakob and Wilhelm K. Grimm, Little Red Cap, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Minedition (New York, NY), 2006.

Oscar Wilde, The Selfish Giant, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1984.

Hans Christian Andersen, The Nightingale, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1984.

E. Nesbit, The Deliverers of Their Country, Picture Book Studio (San Francisco, CA), 1985.

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1986.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1988.

Aesop, Aesop's Fables, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1989.

Heinz Janisch, adaptor, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, translated by Anthea Bell, Picture Book Studio (Boston, MA), 1990, published as The Merry Pranks of Till Eulenspiegel, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992, published as Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, North-South Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Wilhelm Hauf, Dwarf Nose, translated by Michelle Nikly, North-South (New York, NY), 1995.

Christian Morgenstern, Lullabies, Lyrics, and Gallows Songs, North-South (New York, NY), 1995.

Theodor Storm, Little Hobbin, North-South (New York, NY), 1995.

L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, North-South (New York, NY), 1996.

Heinz Janisch, Noah's Ark, translated by Rosemary Lanning, North-South (New York, NY), 1997.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, North-South (New York, NY), 1999.

Rudyard Kipling, How the Camel Got His Hump, North-South (New York, NY), 2001.

Stories from the Bible, North-South (New York, NY), 2001.

Clement C. Moore, The Night before Christmas, Penguin (New York, NY), 2005.

Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, Minedition (New York, NY), 2005.

Jakob and Wilhelm K. Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, translated by Anthea Bell, Minedition (New York, NY), 2007.

Books featuring Zwerger's illustrations have been published in many other countries, including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.


Lisbeth Zwerger is recognized internationally as one of the finest contemporary illustrators of children's literature. Providing the drawings for such classic holi-

day narratives as O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, Clement C. Moore's The Night before Christmas, and Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Zwerger has been honored by awards that include the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. "Zwerger's dreamy, delicately drawn ink-and-wash illustrations shine with humanity, and are often spiced with humor," wrote Heather Frederick in describing the illustrator's appeal in Publishers Weekly. Zwerger's drawings are further celebrated for their ability to enhance and complement the literature they accompany. According to Frederick, the Austrian-born artist "is indisputably one of the most talented illustrators [her generation] … has produced."

Born in 1954 in Vienna, Austria, Zwerger grew up in a household attuned to artistic values: her father was a graphic artist and her mother, a medical assistant, had a knack for fashion design. While Zwerger relished this emphasis on art, as a child she also experienced many troubles in her schooling. "I wish I could say that by growing up in such ‘colourful’ surroundings my childhood was somehow different or exciting," she expressed in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "but sadly it was neither." In addition to her public schooling, Zwerger took private lessons, a common practice in European education. She would begin her days practicing the piano, proceed by going to school, return home for lunch, and later attend private tutoring sessions where the teachers "would do their best in trying to turn us into young Einsteins," as she later recalled.

Although Zwerger cannot remember exactly when she started drawing, she recalls being encouraged to sketch by her parents, who were talented in painting, puppetry, and photography. Zwerger and her sister engaged in many drawing projects, but Zwerger always exhibited a tendency toward illustration. Recognizing their daughter's dislike of public school, her parents eventually enrolled her at Vienna's Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst. There, under less-restrictive instruction, Zwerger enjoyed creative freedom but was disappointed at the lack of classes focusing on illustration. Discouraged by her instructors, she "seemed to drift from illustrating or drawing, until eventually things came to a sort of standstill and I lost interest all together," as she later recalled.

During the spring of 1974 Zwerger met John Rowe, an English artist then vacationing in Vienna. The two became best friends and, when Rowe decided to remain in Vienna to study, they began looking for an apartment to rent together. "This did not please my parents one little bit," Zwerger maintained in SAAS, In addition to marrying Rowe, the illustrator dropped out of college, deciding her time there was not time well spent. "Just when my parents had started to believe that I would be saved after all," Zwerger continued, "I brought their hopes and dreams crashing down with these two decisions. Once again I was a problem."

Financially desperate and seemingly without direction, Zwerger was inspired to illustrate again when Rowe brought home a book of illustrations by English artist Arthur Rackham; the book "was to change my whole outlook, if not my life!" declared Zwerger. "I had never seen anything like them, and as I looked through the book, something inside of me seemed to come alive. My love for illustrating returned there and then. I felt so inspired that I wanted to start again straight away."

Accustomed to drawing in black and white, Zwerger tried to imitate Rackham's style of line and color wash. Rowe showed her how to use the two-color technique at which Zwerger quickly became adept, and when her mother offered to purchase some of her illustrations the young artist begin to earn money from her craft. This new source of income helped immensely, for Zwerger and Rowe lived in a Vienna apartment with little furniture and limited funds for food.

Using the two-color technique to illustrate scenes from stories by such authors as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Hans Christian Andersen, Zwerger found modest success with her illustrations. When she showed several drawings at a private gallery, in a group exhibition including both her father and Rowe, every one of her pieces was sold.

Following this success, Zwerger and Rowe decided to move to England where they secured a tiny attic apartment; Rowe worked as a book packer and Zwerger continued to illustrate. In the meantime, Zwerger's mother was showing her daughter's drawings to various publishers in and around Vienna. Eventually, Friedrich Neugebauer, the owner of a small publishing company, took an interest in Zwerger's work, and when the artist and her husband returned to Vienna to live, she met with Neugebauer. The publisher liked her drawings for Hoffmann's The Strange Child and decided to have Zwerger prepare illustrations for the entire book.

Accustomed to drawing on a small scale, Zwerger adjusted to producing larger illustrations and completed the drawings for The Strange Child over the next year. Although surprised at the length of time Zwerger took to complete the project, Neugebauer was impressed by the work, bought the drawings, and enlisted her to illustrate three more books. Zwerger eventually began working with Neugebauer's son, Michael, when the younger man took over his father's publishing company, and under Neugebauer's guidance she has gained international recognition, particularly in the United States.

During her career, Zwerger's signature watercolors have appeared in many of the classics of children's literature—among them Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum—as well as in the books by some lesser-known poets and gatherers of fairy tales. Over the years she has shifted her technique from her two-color pen-and-ink and watercolor works to more opaque watercolor and gouache on colored and white papers. Reviewing The Wizard of Oz in Booklist, Ilene Cooper observed that Zwerger's "fey paintings catch the lighter elements of the story," and

Susan Dove Lempke noted in the same periodical that her artwork for Heinz Janisch's Noah's Ark is, "as always … impeccable." Malcolm Jones, Jr., reviewing the same Bible-based picture book for Newsweek, concluded that "you wouldn't dream of telling Lisbeth Zwerger that the world has enough versions of Noah's Ark, at least not after you have seen her stylish animal catalogue." Lauren Adams, writing in Horn Book, also praised the book's "beautifully detailed insects and animals."

In her images for Alice in Wonderland, Zwerger selected an uncharacteristically vibrant palette to bring to life this childhood classic. As a contributor to Publishers Weekly noted, the artist's "penetrating interpretation reinvents Carroll's situations and characters and demands a rereading of the text." Noting the many who have illustrated Alice, from the original artist, Sir John Tenniel, through Salvador Dali and Barry Moser, Booklist critic Michael Cart applauded Zwerger's unique interpretation. According to the critic, her images are "uniformly lovely and, occasionally, strange and haunting in their dreamlike quality, making them a surprisingly nice match for the text." A reviewer for Horn Book found Zwerger's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland to be "so intensely realized" as to inspire the "reader's own imagination," describing Zwerger's full-page spreads as "exquisitely composed, with unexpected vantage points to give us dynamic new views of the events."

Other classics of childhood given new life in Zwerger's imaginative illustrations include The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, both translated by Anthea Bell. Writing that the illustrator "expands her repertoire of beguilingly illustrated tales" with these books, Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson added that through her study of the original elements and sources, in the case of The Little Mermaid, Zwerger "reinstates the tragic ending and spiritual-mystical components abandoned by Disney" in the version most familiar to U.S. readers. Hoffman's story, which Zwerger first illustrated in 1979, also benefited from her revisioning in a new 2004 edition. "Devotees of the ballet version may be surprised by the layers of fantasy and reality in this skillful distillation" of Hoffman's Nussknacker und Mausekönig, observed Horn Book critic Lolly Robinson. Another familiar story illustrated by Zwerger, The Bremen Town Musicians by the Brothers Grimm features "subdued watercolors" that are "infused with a sophisticated naîveté that lends them an air of gravitas even as they illustrate the story's slapstick episodes," according to Booklist contributor Janice Del Negro.

Incorporating what Horn Book reviewer Joanna Rudge Long characterized as "thoughtfully chosen selections from the King James Version," Stories from the Bible benefits from "powerfully expressive" illustrations by Zwerger that transcend a devout Christian perspective and "extend their meaning to a more universal human experience." Reflecting the view of several critics that Zwerger's approach might be too sophisticated for younger readers, a Publishers Weekly critic deemed the book's images "immaculately executed" and maintained that the artist's approach to this Christian text "will startle readers into fresh insights and appreciations."

Choosing the subject matter of her illustrations is, for Zwerger, the most enjoyable part of her work. "When I design each illustration," she once explained in SAAS, "I take particular pleasure in using objects, animals, and people that have some personal meaning to me. It might be a piece of furniture, or a cat, or even a picture hanging on the wall within my picture." She often incorporates details associated with people she knows; for example, her husband has appeared as several characters in her illustrations. In addition, she conducts research in order to accurately portray certain objects, characters, and time periods in her pictures.

Another aspect that Zwerger deems important in her work is determining the proper story to illustrate. "At first I was quite content to carry on illustrating the sort of stories that I knew from my childhood, all the classics from Grimm or Andersen," she disclosed, "but gradually I began to find the moral in some of them slightly degrading. The sort of stories that I mean are the ones where a beautiful, poor, but suffering girl, finally ends up marrying a prince, because deep down at heart she has been a good girl all along and in spite of all the suffering has managed to do all the right things…. What's more, it became increasingly boring to always illustrate the same sort of stories. It was very refreshing to later illustrate such stories as The Gift of the Magi and [Oscar Wilde's] The Selfish Giant."

"When I look for a story, it has to contain all the right ingredients," Zwerger explained of her work. "For a start, it has to be the right length; I like it to have a main character who is both comical and touching; it has to interest me (of course); it has to be the sort of story that my type of illustrations fit; and, last but not least, it has to have no sexist morals."

Even though Zwerger has found success with her drawings, she never finds illustration to be a simple process. "I often have the feeling that I've never drawn before in my life as I sit looking at a blank sheet of paper, wondering how I'm going to manage with this one …," she admitted in SAAS. "It always takes a few pictures before I can settle down and get into it, and I'm often a bit bad tempered at this stage. [My husband], who is my resident critic (the only one I trust), always looks through my ‘roughs,’ criticizing this or that, and we always end up shouting at each other. It's a touchy time and I think we're both relieved once it's over."

Biographical and Critical Sources


The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger, North-South (New York, NY), 1994.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 46, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Silvey, Anita, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

Zwerger, Lisbeth, Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991, pp. 263-272.


Booklist, May 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of Dwarf Nose, p. 1573; June 1, 1995, review of Lullabies, Lyrics, and Gallows Songs, p. 1779; February 1, 1996, Julie Corsaro, review of Little Hobbin, p. 940; October 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Wizard of Oz, p. 430; December 15, 1996, Michael Cart, review of The Canterville Ghost, p. 722; October 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Noah's Ark, p. 323; November 1, 1999, Michael Cart, review of Alice in Wonderland, p. 528; April 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Stories from the Bible, p. 1326; January 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Swan Lake, p. 886; October 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Little Mermaid, p. 328; October 15, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Night before Christmas, p. 58; February 15, 2007, Janice Del Negro, review of The Bremen Town Musicians, p. 81.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2002, review of Stories from the Bible, p. 6; November, 2002, review of Swan Lake, p. 127; December, 2004, Karen Coats, review of The Little Mermaid, p. 159.

Horn Book, November-December, 1986, Ed Young, review of Little Red Cap, pp. 708-709; November-December, 1988, Mary M. Burns, review of A Christmas Carol, pp. 762-763; March-April, 1998 Lauren Adams, review of Noah's Ark, pp. 213-214; January-February, 2000, review of Alice in Wonderland, p. 72; July-August, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Stories from the Bible, p. 488; November-December, 2004, Lolly Robinson, review of The Nutcracker, p. 660.

Newsweek, December 1, 1997, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Noah's Ark, p. 77.

New York Times Book Review, May 11, 1980, Roger Sale, review of Hansel and Gretel, p. 24; April, 26, 1981, Michele Slung, The Seven Ravens, p. 55; November 14, 1982, Thomas Lask, review of The Gift of the Magi, p. 50; November 13, 1983, Thomas Lask, review of The Nutcracker, p. 53; December 2, 1984, Selma G. Lanes, review of The Strange Child, p. 53; October 19, 1986, review of The Canterville Ghost, p. 44; November 2, 1990, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of The Merry Pranks of Till Eulenspiegel, p. 10; November 17, 2002, Molly Garrett Bang, review of Swan Lake, p. 30.

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1990, Heather Frederick, "A Talk with Lisbeth Zwerger," p. 42; November 16, 1992, review of Fairy Tales, p. 63; November 1, 1999, review of Alice in Wonderland, p. 84; April 1, 2002, review of Stories from the Bible, p. 79; November 4, 2002, review of Swan Lake, p. 86; September 6, 2004, review of The Little Mermaid, p. 62; February 5, 2007, review of The Bremen Town Musicians, p. 58.

School Library Journal, December, 1989, Denise Anton Wright, review of Aesop's Fables, p. 92; February, 1993, Karen K. Radtke, review of Fairy Tales, p. 92; January, 1995, Susan Scheps, review of Dwarf Nose, p. 118; November, 1997, Kathy Piehl, review of Noah's Ark, p. 84; October, 1999, Grace Oliff, review of Alice and Wonderland, p. 110; May, 2002, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Stories from the Bible, p. 177; December, 2002, Amy Kellman, review of Swan Lake, p. 130; December, 2004, Susan Scheps, review of The Little Mermaid, p. 96; February, 2007, Margaret Bush, review of The Bremen Town Musicians, p. 105.


All Business Web site, (September 1, 2005), Meredith E. Lewis, "New Pictures, Old Stories."

Meet Authors and Illustrators, (October 25, 2001), Marilyn Courtot, "Lisbeth Zwerger."

Ricochet-Jeunes Web site, (October 25, 2008), "Lisbeth Zwerger."