It’s hard to get your head around the mega global success of Miffy, a simple modernist rabbit who started life as the star of a bedtime story its creator told his young son.
But the sad death of the Dutch artist and Miffy creator Dick Bruna, gives us all pause to reflect on this little rabbit’s incredible journey, and the unique talent who created her.
Dick Bruna first wrote a book featuring Nijntje in 1955 – she became Miffy after the series’ English translator felt the original name was too difficult for non Dutch speakers to pronounce.
By the time Dick retired in 2011, there were 124 Miffy books which had been translated into more than 40 languages. But that was just the half of it. Miffy became a global icon – she appeared in campaigns for the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the New York City tourist board. She graced everything from posters to pencil cases, ceramic sets to kimonos. When the Matsuya department store in Tokyo ran a show marking 50 years of Miffy in 2005, it attracted 200,000 visitors in just two weeks.
Great artists always make things seem easy. The language he developed is so simple, so direct and so colourful, that is why he is loved all over the world.
Miffy’s softly-spoken creator always took the mindboggling fame, success and financial rewards in his stride. He could be seen cycling to work along the canals of Utrecht and was always polite to the groupies who flocked to his favorite cafe for a chance to meet the man behind Miffy.
“I just see it as a very ordinary job,” he told The Guardian in 2006. “There is nothing else I can do, apart from make little drawings and stories…It seems a little bit silly, but I find it very hard to do even Miffy. I’ve done so many drawings of her, but every day I try to do it a little bit better than yesterday.”
That same year saw the opening of the Dick Bruna Huis in Utrecht, a permanent collection of his work. This honor put him in prestigious company – other Dutch artists who have museums dedicated to their work in their homeland include Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
But the comparisons are not ridiculous. As The New York Times noted, the simplicity of his famous creation is a masterpiece of modernism. “Stare at Miffy head on, and Mr. Bruna’s sculptural training becomes evident as the figure’s straightforward unshaded body, outlined in firm ink strokes, assumes rounded proportions, colored in the primary hues favored by Mondrian and Matisse, two of his inspirations.”
For WeTransfer’s Creative Director Laszlito Kovacs, who created this special tribute image, Miffy played an important part in both his personal and professional development.
“Through Dick Bruna, I learned about Dutch culture without knowing I was doing it,” Laszlito says. “When I was a kid, I had all of these books and that was my first emotional contact with Dutch culture.”
Now based in Amsterdam, Laszlito takes inspiration too from his hero’s artistic approach.
“Great artists always make things seem easy. The language he developed is so simple, so direct and so colourful, that is why he is loved all over the world.”
So on behalf of kids, big kids and everyone in between, thank you Mr. Bruna.