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Walter Crane

1845-1915

British Golden Age Illustrator

Walter Crane (15 August 1845 – 14 March 1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, are considered the strongest contributors to the child's nursery motif that the genre of English children's illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century.

Walter Crane (15 August 1845 – 14 March 1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, are considered the strongest contributors to the child's nursery motif that the genre of English children's illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century. His worked featured some of the more colorful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children's stories for decades to come. Born in Liverpool, he was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. He produced paintings, illustrations, children's books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts.

 

Early life and influences

The children of Queen Blondine and sister Brunette picked up by a Corsair after seven days at sea, from the fairy tale Princess Belle-Etoile.

The children of Queen Blondine and sister Brunette picked up by a Corsair after seven days at sea, from the fairy tale Princess Belle-Etoile.

 Walter Crane was the second son of Thomas Crane, portrait painter and miniaturist. He was a fluent follower of the newer art movements and he came to study and appreciate the detailed senses of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and was also a diligent student of the renowned artist and critic John Ruskin. A set of coloured page designs to illustrate Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" gained the approval of wood-engraver William James Linton to whom Walter Crane was apprenticed for three years (1859-1862). As a wood-engraver he had abundant opportunity for the minute study of the contemporary artists whose work passed through his hands, of Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, as well as Alice in Wonderland illustrator Sir John Tenniel and Frederick Sandys. He was a student who admired the masters of the Italian Renaissance, however he was more influenced by the Elgin marbles in the British Museum. A further and important element in the development of his talent was the study of Japanese colour-prints, the methods of which he imitated in a series of toy-books, which started a new fashion.


Paintings and illustrations

In 1862 his picture "The Lady of Shalott" was exhibited at the Royal Academy, but the Academy steadily refused his maturer work; and after the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 he ceased to send pictures to Burlington House. In 1864 he began to illustrate a series of sixpenny toy-books of nursery rhymes in three colours for Edmund Evans. He was allowed more freedom in a series beginning with The Frog Prince (1874) which showed markedly the influence of Japanese art, and of long visit to Italy following on his marriage in 1871.

The Frog Asks To Be Allowed To Enter The Castle - Illustration For The Frog Prince, 1874

The Frog Asks To Be Allowed To Enter The Castle - Illustration For The Frog Prince, 1874

The Baby's Opera was a book of English nursery songs planned in 1877 with Evans, and a third series of children's books with the collective title Romance of the Three R's, provided a regular course of instruction in art for the nursery. In his early "Lady of Shalott" the artist had shown his preoccupation with unity of design in book illustration by printing in the words of the poem himself, in the view that this union of the calligrapher's and the decorator's art was one secret of the beauty of the old illuminated books.

He followed the same course in The First of May: A Fairy Masque by his friend John Wise, text and decoration being in this case reproduced by photogravure. The Goose Girl illustration taken from his beautiful Household Stories from Grimm (1882) was reproduced in tapestry by William Morris.

Flora's Feast, A Masque of Flowers had lithographic reproductions of Crane's line drawings washed in with water colour; he also decorated in colour The Wonder Book of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Deland's Old Garden. In 1894 he collaborated with William Morris in the page decoration of The Story of the Glittering Plain, published at the Kelmscott Press, which was executed in the style of 16th century Italian and German woodcuts. Crane also illustrated editions of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (12 pts., 1894-1896) and The Shepheard's Calendar.

Crane wrote and illustrated three books of poetry, Queen Summer (1891), Renascence (1891), and The Sirens Three (1886). Walter Crane illustrated Nellie Dale's books on Teaching English Reading: Steps to Reading, First Primer, Second Primer, Infant Reader, Book I, and Book II. These were most probably completed between 1898 and 1907.

 

Socialism

From the early 1880s, initially under Morris's influence, Crane was closely associated with the Socialist movement. He did as much as Morris himself to bring art into the daily life of all classes. With this object in view he devoted much attention to designs for textiles, for wallpapers, and to house decoration; but he also used his art for the direct advancement of the Socialist cause. For a long time he provided the weekly cartoons for the Socialist organs Justice, The Commonweal and The Clarion. Many of these were collected as Cartoons for the Cause. He devoted much time and energy to the work of the Art Workers Guild, and to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded by him in 1888.

Although not himself an anarchist, Crane contributed to several libertarian publishers, including Liberty Press and Freedom Press. Following the Haymarket bombing, Crane made multiple trips to America where he spoke in defense of the eight anarchists accused of murder.

Mature work

His own easel pictures, chiefly allegorical in subject, among them "The Bridge of Life" (1884) and "The Mower" (1891), were exhibited regularly at the Grosvenor Gallery and later at the New Gallery. "Neptune's Horses," was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893, and with it may be classed his "Rainbow and the Wave."

Wallpaper design, 1875

Wallpaper design, 1875

His varied work includes examples of plaster relief, tiles, stained glass, pottery, wallpaper and textile designs, in all of which he applied the principle that in purely decorative design "the artist works freest and best without direct reference to nature, and should have learned the forms he makes use of by heart." An exhibition of his work of different kinds was held at the Fine Art Society's galleries n Bond Street in 1891, and taken over to the United States in the same year by the artist himself. It was afterwards exhibited in the Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.

Crane became an associate of the Water Colour Society in 1888; he was an examiner for the Science and Art Department at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum; director of design at the Manchester Municipal school (1894); art director of Reading College (1896); and in 1898 for a short time principal of the Royal College of Art. His lectures at Manchester were published with illustrated drawings as The Bases of Design (1898) and Line and Form (1900). The Decorative Illustration of Books, Old and New (2nd ed., London and New York, 1900) is a further contribution to theory. A well-known portrait of Crane by George Frederick Watts was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893.

One of his last major works would be his lunettes at the Royal West of England Academy which were painted in 1913.

He died in 1915 and was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium where his ashes remain.
 

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