Walter Crane: his illustrations, biography and socialism
Who is Walter Crane?
Walter Crane is one of best illustrators of children's books who's painting and designing skills set standards for hundreds of illustrators and designers.
Walter Crane wasn't just a great artist, he was also a political activist who sincerely believed art should be part of everybody's life and passionately supported his ideas with paintings, illustrations and essays.
Although he worked in so many areas, including wallpapers, ceramic tiles and textiles, we can safely say Walter Crane's greatest legacy lies in his illustrations of books for kids. In my humble opinion, Crane was the most influential children's illustrator of all times!
(intro image An Alphabet Of Old Friends, all presented images are Public Domain)
The illustrator and you
Have you ever heard about Walter Crane?
Thomas Crane, painter, illustrator, lithographer and miniaturist
Walter Crane was born on August 15th, 1845 in Liverpool as the second son of Thomas Crane, who was a pretty good painter, illustrator and miniaturist. Thomas Crane who had several successful exhibitions of his paintings would maybe become famous if he didn't have constant problems with his health.
For health reasons family Crane lived in Torquay for more than a decade, but the friendly weather was not enough to feed the family with four kids. Soon after Thomas Crane moved to more business friendly London, his health had deteriorated and only two years later he died. It was 1859.
Thomas Crane was best at portraits but he worked on many interesting projects. His workshop was the first classroom for his son Walter. I found few examples of Thomas' illustrations for children and there is an article (written in Slovene, but nicely illustrated) about him. If you want to check the article with more illustrations, just press the image above.
Walter as engraver
In 1859 as only 14 years old boy Walter Crane became an apprentice at famous wood engraver and printer William James Linton. Crane worked as an engraver and he had a chance to study some of the best artists, like John Tenniel from first hand.
Linton was also politically active and he initiated Walter Crane into the world of constant fight for justice in economy and art.
Probably most important influence on young Crane who was already drawing and selling his drawings to different magazines was Linton's attitude to vignettes. Linton always wanted pictures with surrounding details blended with the background, vanishing into the white paper as smoothly and gently as possible.
Vignettes became the most powerful tool to express Crane's illustrating and designing talent.
Crane meets Evans
In 1863, he was introduced to Edmund Evans. Evans was specialist and pioneer of color printing. Working with him pans out as one of best cooperation in the history of illustration.
At first, Crane illustrated only covers for cheap books for kids sold in train stations.
Edmund possessed good business sense and soon decided to develop new, more quality kind of books for kids with more details and hues of colors, for a higher price and bigger profits.
The illustrating technique of Walter Crane seemed just perfect for the so called toy books which proved as a great success.
Although first editions of toy books were limited to red and blue Crane and Evans achieved a really great quality of illustrations and series of toy books became a great success.
The quality of printing further improved from year to year and I have chosen few examples from one of most prolific years: 1873!
Puss in Boots
Little Red Riding Hood
Three Bears - Also: Goldilocks and Three Bears
We have to add Walter Crane married Mary in 1871. Long honeymoon in Italy left important consequences on his artistic work.
The influence of Renaissance masters is clearly shown in next projects and we can also notice strong contrasts typical for Japanese wood blocks which Crane liked so much.
Next two illustrations are from 1874.
Frog Prince - Also: Frog King
Aladdin and Wonderful Lamp - (from 1001 Nights)
Sleeping Beauty in the Woods - (last in the series of toy books, 1876)
It looks Evans and Crane used just about every popular story from the long list of fairy tales without copyright restrictions...
When 'six pence series' ended another one started. This time, Walter illustrated nursery rhymes edited by his sister Lucy.
We can clearly see Crane illustrated picture books with kid's perception of the world in mind.
He noticed children are not very concerned about realistic three-dimensional images.
They actually prefer simplified two-dimensional characters with humorous details and lively colors.
Walter Crane tried to stimulate children's imagination with all sorts of tricks like using the same minor character in different songs to encourage further exploring of the book.
Baby's Own Aesop
This series was not the only cooperation with his sister Lucy. She was a very good translator and one of her major works was a translation of Household Stories by Grimms. Walter illustrated the book published in 1880 and many experts agree these black and white drawings, especially vignettes with their limited space show the full power of Crane’s sense of composition and strong line draw.
Walter Crane's Flora's Feast
This is Crane at his best. Beautifully illustrated festival of flowers with accompanying verses makes a perfect present for every gentle soul.
Flora's Feast (A Flora's Festival of Flowers) is a great example of Crane's superb illustrating technique and designing skills.
This book is of course on the list of collectibles, so the price is higher than usual - don't be scared! - but there are also used editions for much more affordable prizes available.
Walter Crane's Flora's Feast is a beautiful piece of late Victorian art.
Another interesting series started roughly at the same time and lasted sixteen books.
Walter Crane illustrated books written by Mary Louisa Molesworth, more known as Mrs. Molesworth.
Her books were pretty moralistic, aimed at girls who already outgrew fairy tales and were almost ready to start looking for their own role in the world of adults.
Mrs. Molesworth believed they should prepare as much as possible for the role of mothers.
I must mention illustration from Oscar Wilde's Happy Prince (1888):
Walter Crane's work for children stopped around 1890.
He dedicated the rest of his life to paintings and illustrations for adults.
He was also politically active. Crane believed in the idea of socialism where (among other things) everybody, not just the elite, should have a chance to enjoy the art.
Art belongs to everybody - anytime, everywhere!
The master in your living room!
For this reason Crane didn't only illustrate and paint, he also designed books, pottery, stained glass, tiles...
For your convenience, I have found a coloring book (it is in Public Domain) by Walter Crane.
Every illustration is drawn twice. Once with only black lines and the second time in full color like the master himself thought it should be colored.
Your kid (and you) can try to learn from Walter Crane and compare your style with his!
Walter Crane wrote several essays on art and design and worked until his death in 1915.
He died of broken heart only three months after his beloved wife Mary died in a traffic accident.
Walter Crane's illustrations will still bring joy to many generations.