The short but illustrious career of ‘the man who drew Denmark’

Hidden away in various private collections around the world, the extensive work of renowned Danish artist Ib Antoni is brought together in a new book

Ib Antoni with Unika Væv butterfly rugs featuring his textile designs

A book on the life and times of the renowned Danish visual artist Ib Antoni has been published in English for the first time. The book, published to comemmorate what would have been his 90th birthday, was originally released by Antoni Legacy, the organisation dedicated to preserving his memory.

Born in Esbjerg, the country’s largest port town, Antoni made his name in the 50s and 60s through striking poster art, as well as by becoming the artist behind Denmark’s post-war rebrand.

Titled The Man Who Drew Denmark, the book reveals Antoni’s extensive portfolio of work, as well as the major moments and events that defined his life and career.

Aarhus Harbour sketch, 1947

Originally written by Danish author and journalist Sara Alfort, and translated by Heidi Flegal, the book recounts in detail Antoni’s ascent from his early days as a “young Dane with a creative mind and a sharp pencil” to becoming one of the country’s most important artistic figures.

“He won international awards and met royalty, ambassadors and ministers of state,” writes Alfort in the book’s introduction. “He was the uncompromising artist who drew hundreds of sketches before he was satisfied. He was the hard-working globetrotter with a twinkle in his eye, a part of the ‘Mad men’ scene in New York in the 1950s, driving fast in his MG with the top down, his tweed cap on and a cigarette in his mouth. He was the astute businessman who flew around the world, even though he was terrified of flying.”

Carlsberg & Love, 1951
Sherlock Holmes

Before Antoni tragically died in a fire at Copenhagen’s Hotel Hafnia in 1973, he made an indelible mark on the Danish scene. Among other achievements, he was chosen as the “visual brain” behind a campaign to kickstart tourism in Denmark after the end of World War II. His vibrant, charming illustrations would become a way of establishing the country’s now well-known association with happiness, fairy tales, and elegant design.

“His posters became a regular feature when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Tourist Association and the Agricultural Sales Council arranged promotions for Danish goods, Danish culture, and Danish ‘hygge’ abroad,” writes Alfort.

“With his posters, created especially for the Danish pavilion, he represented the official Denmark at the world exhibition in New York in 1965, and it was Antoni’s works that illustrated the numerous ‘Danish Weeks’ around the world with the participation of the Danish Royal Family.”

The Beatles Mop Top, 1968
The Rainbow Piano, 1970

Despite passing away in middle age, Antoni’s illustrious career allowed for the creation of hundreds of works, 300 of which can be found in the book. Many of these have never been seen before and, gathered in a physical book in English for the first time, serve as a reminder of Antoni’s boundless imagination and impressive technical skill.

“After our years-long efforts to catalogue and track down Ib Antoni’s works around the globe, we can conclude that it would require an entire and separate book just to show them all,” notes the team at Antoni Legacy. “And since, fortunately, new and hitherto unseen works still occasionally come to light, such an effort to reproduce his entire life’s work would probably never be complete.”

The Man Who Drew Denmark is published in English by It All Began Books (Antoni Legacy);