Dick Bruna is a renowned Dutch graphic designer, artist, illustrator and author. He is recognized for his substantial and seminal contribution to children’s literature. He authored and illustrated more than two hundred books. He is best known for creating Miffy, a small female rabbit in a series of picture books.
Born on August 23, 1927, Hendrik Magdalenus Bruna grew up in Utrecht, Netherlands. He was the eldest son of a leading Dutch publisher, Albert Willem Bruna. It was his great-grandfather who founded the great Dutch publishing house A.W Bruna & son, in the late nineteenth century. The bookstands of the company were located at almost all the country’s railway stations. He spent his teenage years rather recklessly yet he met authors and designers at his house which helped him develop interest in design.
Despite the fact that Bruna was raised by a noted publisher and destined to follow the lead of his father, he opted for a different career. The advent of the Second World War had the Brunas move to Loosdrecht to find shelter from chaos, mayhem and death that lurked outside. During this time Bruna’s indifferent attitude toward his family business turned into single-minded aversion toward everything his father stood for; publishing and marketing. He had taken to drawing during those turbulent years. As the war came to a halt eventually, his family moved to Hilversum. There Bruna had problems adjusting in the new school, thus his father relieved him of attending school on the condition that he would join the family business. Soon he found apprenticeship in Utrecht, London and Paris through his father’s connection.
The innovative atmosphere of Paris appealed to young Bruna. He would visit as many exhibitions in a day as he could. He became inspired by the work of Léger, Braque and Matisse among other artists. His father and grandfather, being true businessmen and entrepreneurs, never had much interest in art for art’s sake. On the other hand, Bruna detested the commercial business and eventually made his family aware of his real sentiments. He was more inclined toward an artistic choice of career. He was surprised to find out that his family permitted him to attend an art course at the State Academy in Amsterdam. Eventually, his brother took over the family business.
In 1951, Bruna proposed a girl in his neighborhood, Irene de Jongh and upon her father’s demand to find a steady job he had no choice but to accept a permanent position at the family publishing house. Bruna became an integral part to the design department as he started to work as in-house designer. Early in his career he designed book covers for which he took inspiration from Matisse. Bruna made colourful compositions and made use of primary colours on a black background which gave his book covers a unique look. The book covers stood out among others as his work showcased bright colours, sleek illustrations and gentle humour. Furthermore, he created the corporate identity of the company. He also managed the publicity work as he designed posters that were pasted on railway stations to convince passengers to buy one of their editions.
The creation of his masterpiece Miffy, was inspired by the rabbit Dick Bruna saw while vacationing with his wife and child in 1955. “Nijntje” is the original Dutch name of the rabbit, while Miffy is the English one. Bruna is credited for illustrating around 2,000 covers and over 100 posters. His notable illustrations include the Zwarte Beertjes books series, James Bond, Shakespeare’s work and The Saint.