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Kate Greenaway - English children's book illustrator and writer

Updated on January 27, 2014
Illustration from Greenaway's book, "May Day."
Illustration from Greenaway's book, "May Day." | Source
Flower illustration by Kate Greenaway
Flower illustration by Kate Greenaway | Source

As a child, my paternal grandmother introduced me to the charming and quaint books of English writer and illustrator Kate Greenaway. She is best noted for her children's illustrations of her own books and those children's books written by others.

What made her stand apart from other children book illustrators where her depictions of idyllic childhood, so pure and innocent, and the clothing she dressed her children in for her portrayals was always so beautiful and intricate. It was the clothing fashion of a past era, but on the children was so quaint.

I fell in love with Kate Greenaway books and her illustrations. They depicted the perfect childhoods we all wish we had had. My grandmother always made life beautiful for my sister and I, and when at her house during the summer, we had that idyllic childhood depicted in Kate Greenaway illustrations.

The carefree, tender and delicate life of children Greenaway portrayed was like that at my grandmother's. Greenaway's books and illustrations were so popular in Britain and the United States that Liberty of London adapted her drawings as designs for actual children's clothes.

And yes, my grandmother bought us Kate Greenaway dresses to wear. Smock dresses, high waisted pinafores, and straw bonnets were all the Greenaway clothing we wore. At the time, we were cute enough to paint.

Each Christmas my sister and I would receive a Kate Greenaway illustrated book and dress. We looked forward to those presents every Christmas. My grandmother was of English, Dutch and Welsh ancestry and so she brought us in touch with something from our English heritage.

Catherine "Kate" Greenaway
Catherine "Kate" Greenaway | Source

Books written and illustrated by Kate Greenaway

Under the Window

Marigold Garden

Little Ann

Mother Goose

Birthday Book

A Day in a Child's Life

Kate Greenaway Alphabet

The Language of Flowers

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Elf Ring, illustrated by Kate Greenaway
The Elf Ring, illustrated by Kate Greenaway | Source
"Birthday Book for Children" by Kate Greenaway.
"Birthday Book for Children" by Kate Greenaway. | Source

Kate Greenaway 1846 - 1901

Catherine Greenaway, better known as Kate Greenaway, was born in Horton, England and spent her childhood in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire, England. She was an English children's book illustrator, writer and illustrator of cards, calendars and posters.

Her father was John Greenaway, a well-known draftsman and wood engraver and her mother, Elizabeth was a seamstress and women's clothing shop owner. Greenaway was greatly influenced by both her parents in her chosen profession of illustrating.

Greenaway lived a happy and carefree childhood in the country, and this became the subject of her illustrations. She had a photographic memory and could remember the clothing her mother designed and sewed.

Greenaway was particularly fond of her father and they formed a special bond and he was the guiding force throughout her life.

From early childhood, Greenaway was encouraged to to draw. She was home schooled as a child and would daydream and draw when bored with her studies. She was quite shy as a child and as an adult. But, by the age seventeen, Greenaway was quite adept at watercolor and ink drawings and her art had won several awards.

She went on to study at South Kesington, at Heatherley's life classics and at Slade School. It later became the Royal College of Art in London. It had a separate section for women learning art as women were not allowed to draw nude figures.

Her early work was illustrating Christmas cards and calendars and these items became quite in vogue because of her burgeoning talent. Her illustrations of children had an air of simplicity, freshness, humor and innocence. Her work appealed to the public and artists as well, and her children's illustrations attracted much attention.

In 1868 she began to exhibit watercolor drawings at the Dudley Gallery, in London. Her subjects were young girls, children, flowers and landscapes. She began to draw for the Illustrated London News in 1877.

She published her first book, Under the Window in 1879, to great critical acclaim world-wide and great book sales. She also wrote the rhymes and stories to accompany her illustrations. Her books were immediately popular and best sellers in England and America and went for sale in bookshops in both countries. Her works created a revolution in illustration.

The "Kate Greenaway" children in her illustrations were dressed in her own version of late 18th cent and Regency fashions. These included smock-frocks, skeleton suites for boys, high waisted pinafores and dresses with mob caps and straw bonnets for the girls.

Her quaint children illustrations were the essence of Victorian childhood portrayed in the idealized children of her work. The children are dreamy little figures and the clothing they wear is from Greenaway's girlish imagination.

Greenaway used child mannequins and live child models to paint her illustrations. She dressed children in clothing she herself designed and sewed. Her garden at her own home was where she planted the flowers she would also illustrate.

Greenaway's father contacted Edmund Evans to do the wood carvings and printings for her books and the illustrations for others. Evans collaborated with her on all her books. Evans reproduced her paintings by chomoxylography, which is a process by which the colors were printed from hand-engraved wood blocks. He used four color blocks, red, blue, yellow and flesh, to reproduced her delicate watercolors.

Because of this collaboration with Greenaway on all her books, Evans received one-third of the book profits.

From 1883-97, and with only a break in 1896, Greenaway issued a series of Kate Greenaway Almanacs, of course, illustrated by her.

In 1891, 1894, and 1898, Greenaway exhibited water-color drawings, including illustrations of her books at the Gallery of the Fine Art Society.

When illustrating, Greenaway preferred to provide her own text, but one of her most famous illustrations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was done to accompany Robert Browning's work.

Greenaway's books and illustrations were popular to the mothers of her generation in "artistic" British circles and they dressed their daughters in Kate Greenaway pantaloons and bonnets in the 1880's and 1890's. Greenaway influenced children's fashion as well.

Greenaway was elected to membership in the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colors in 1889, and she was also becoming quite wealthy. She had many wealthy patrons who backed her art also.

She had a home designed and built in the Arts and Crafts style by Richard Norman Shaw in Frognal, London.

She also had two suitors during her lifetime, but neither one resulted in marriage. She died of breast cancer in 1901 and is buried at Hampstead Cemetery, London.

As she became older, Greenaway moved on from illustrating and writing children's books and concentrated on painting watercolor portraits and landscapes.

In 1955, the Kate Greenaway Medal was established in her honor and is awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the UK to an outstanding and distinguised children's book illustrator for that year.

The award is considered the highest honor an English illustrator can receive and the recipient receives a gold medal and five hundred pounds worth of books to donate to a library of their choice. In the year 2000 a five thousand pound monetary award was added to the medal and known as the Colin Mears Award.

Poster by Kate Greenaway
Poster by Kate Greenaway | Source
"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" illustration by Kate Greenaway for Robert Browning.
"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" illustration by Kate Greenaway for Robert Browning. | Source

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