From his teens to the first few years of his professional career, Heinrich Kley proved himself technically adept, rendering everything from animals to industry with solid results. Kley found his strength in drawing the intricacies of modern machinery, a relatively new area of specialty. After studies both in his native Karlsruhe and later in Munich, he achieved early success in practical industrial illustration. When he added his own personal editorial opinions to his art, he produced work that was lasting and different.
Known for his masterful pen-work, Kley had become a regular in German magazines Jugend and Simplicissimus by 1908. His line work was loose and fluid, and his assembly of those lines produce a skilled representation, whether of a hardened soldier, a dancing tortoise, or a fair fraulein. Few artists could rival the freedom he seemed to achieve in a medium as rigid as ink. The style that Kley had exhibited in 1908 had all the markings of a talented draftsman, but with the additional touch of humor, which made his work rise above that of the more common illustrator. His art poked fun at the giants of industry, the elitist social class, and the pursuit of beauty. However, by 1920, he changed direction, pursuing the stability of more commercial work. It is the line work of this earlier period, however, visible to us through publications and republications, that necessitates repeated viewings. Kley is known to have done book work, but only sparingly,. His work never regained the popularity he held in the 1910s, and he passed away in Munich in 1945.
Kley's work was introduced at Walt Disney Studios sometime in the 1920s of 1930s. It was considered so influential, that some very strong parallels can be drawn between JKley's work and some of the early Disney film segments, most notably in Fantasia, where dancing alligators and hippos seems to have been born from Kley's sketches. In 2012 there was a special exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum, showcasing some of the original Kley artwork from the Disney archives that Walt himself had collected in the 1930s.
Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators From the Golden Age, 1890-1925. Published by Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 2016. p. 119.