Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni (May 5, 1910 - October 11, 1999) was an author and illustrator of children's books. Born in Amsterdam, he moved to Italy and lived there before moving to the United States in 1939, where he worked as an art director for several advertising agencies, and then for Fortune magazine. He returned to Italy in 1962 and started writing and illustrating children's books.


Lionni's father was a Sephardic Jew who worked in the diamond business and his mother was an opera singer. He grew up in a house filled with his uncle's art collection. He lived within short walking distance of the two great museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk Museum.

He married Nora Maffi, the daughter of the founder of the Italian Communist Party and they had two sons, and later, grandchildren by both sons.

Leo Lionni died October 11, 1999 at his home in Tuscany, Italy, at the age of 89.


From 1931 to 1939 he was a well known and respected painter in Italy, where he worked in the Futurist and avant-garde styles. In 1935 he received a doctorate degree in economics (1935) from the University of Genoa. During the later part of this period Lionni devoted himself more and more to advertising design.

In 1939 he moved to Philadelphia and began full time work in advertising, at which he was extremely successful, acquiring accounts from Ford Motors, and Chrysler Plymouth, among others. He commissioned art from Saul Steinberg, the then neophyte Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, and Fernand Léger.

In 1948 he accepted a position as art director for Fortune, which he held until 1960.

In 1960 he moved back to Italy, where he began his career as a children's book author and illustrator. Lionni produced more than 40 children's books. He received the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal and was a four-time Caldecott Honor Winner--for "Inch by Inch", "Frederick", "Swimmy", and "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse".


It was reported by the New York Times on November 5, 2006 that he donated a painting by George Grosz, “The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse," to the Museum of Modern Art in 1954.

The estate of George Grosz has made a claim that this painting was stolen by the Nazis during World War II. If their claim is shown to be true, that would make the ownership by Lionni in 1954 illegal. This claim has not been settled, so there is no proof that this painting was stolen. In addition no evidence has been disclosed which suggests that Lionni had reason to suspect that the painting was stolen.

Selected works

*"Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse"
*"The Alphabet Tree"
*"The Biggest House in the World"
*"A Busy Year"
*"A Color of His Own"
*"Colors to Talk About"
*"Cornelius: A Fable"
*"An Extraordinary Egg"
*"Fish is Fish"
*"A Flea Story"
*"Geraldine, the Music Mouse"
*"The Greentail Mouse"
*"I Want to Stay Here! I Want to Go There!: A Flea Story"
*"In the Rabbitgarden"
*"Inch by Inch"
*"It's Mine"
*"Let's Make Rabbits: A Fable"
*"Let's Play"
*"Letters to Talk About"
*"Little Blue and Little Yellow"
*"Matthew's Dream"
*"Mouse Days: A Book of Seasons"
*"Mr. McMouse"
*"Nicolas, Where Have You Been?"
*"Numbers to Talk About"
*"On My Beach There are Many Pebbles"
*"Parallel Botany"
*"Pouce Par Pouce"
*"Prohibido a Los Gatos!"
*"Pulgada a Pulgada"
*"Six Crows: A Fable"
*"Theodore and the Talking Mushroom"
*"Tico and the Golden Wings"
*"Tillie and the Wall"
*"Tili Y El Muro"
*"Una Piedra Extraordinaria"
*"What?: Pictures to Talk About"
*"When?: Pictures to Talk About"
*"Where?: Pictures to Talk About"
*"Who?: Pictures to Talk About"
*"Words to Talk About"


*The band Tilly and the Wall derived inspiration for their name from one of his books.

External links

* [http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/lionni/ Information from Random House]
* [http://digital.library.unt.edu/search/?q=%22Lionni%2C+Leo%22&t=agent Leo Lionnio posters] , hosted by the [http://digital.library.unt.edu/ University of North Texas Libraries Digital Collections]
* [http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-leolionni American Institute of Graphic Arts biography]
* [http://www.adcglobal.org/archive/hof/1974/?id=287 Art Directors Club biography, portrait and images of work]

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