Dutch creator of Miffy the rabbit dies at 89

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This file photo taken on 23 February, 2005 shows illustrator Dick Bruna posing at the opening of his exhibition "Miffy creations" in Madurodam, The Hague.

This file photo taken on 23 February, 2005 shows illustrator Dick Bruna posing at the opening of his exhibition "Miffy creations" in Madurodam, The Hague.

web_photo_miffy_creator_170217

This file photo taken on 23 February, 2005 shows illustrator Dick Bruna posing at the opening of his exhibition "Miffy creations" in Madurodam, The Hague.

This file photo taken on 23 February, 2005 shows illustrator Dick Bruna posing at the opening of his exhibition "Miffy creations" in Madurodam, The Hague.

THE HAGUE - Dutch artist and illustrator Dick Bruna, creator of beloved children's character Miffy the white rabbit, has died aged 89, his publishing house said Friday.

Bruna died in his sleep late Thursday at his home in the central Dutch city of Utrecht where he lived most of his life, publishers Mercis said in a statement.

The author penned 124 picture books during a career which spanned six decades. Most were for young children and featured Miffy.

Over 85 million Miffy books have been sold around the world, translated into more than 50 languages.

"It has been a great privilege to have known and worked with Dick Bruna so intensively over the past 40 years," Mercis director Marja Kerkhof said in a statement.

His death was a "great loss for the Dutch design," added Marco Grob, from the Utrecht Central Museum, which runs a museum in the town dedicated to Miffy which opened a year go in February 2016.

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Bruna's work "forms a bridge between 20th and 21st century design," Grob added.

Now a children's favourite, Miffy, the white bunny with two dots for eyes and a cross for her mouth, was inspired by a rabbit seen hopping around the garden during a family seaside holiday in 1955.

At first she was just a character woven into a bedtime story for Bruna's oldest son Sierk, but then the book illustrator drew her on paper. And he decided she should be a girl, as drawing dresses was more fun than trousers.

And so Miffy was born.

It is her endearing simplicity, along with her friends like Poppy the kind pig lady and Snuffy the dog, which has cemented the books' universal appeal to pre-schoolers.

Six decades on, and now in her 60s, she has changed very little over the years although at the beginning her ears were floppy and she looked more like a stuffed toy.

"When I'm sitting at my drawing table, it sometimes feels as if a child is standing there looking straight at me. It's one of the reasons my figures are always facing you," Bruna once said of his work.

"Children have this great directness. It's something I appreciate hugely."