Walter Crane

Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) was a British artist and book illustrator. Crane was born in Liverpool, his father Thomas Crane was a portrait painter and miniaturist, and his mother, Marie Crane, was the daughter of a prosperous malt-maker. Crane was an admirer of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the teachings of art critic John Ruskin. Thomas Crane encouraged Walter to pursue his interest in art. At a young age, Walter would decorate books with watercolours for amusement, and Thomas, seeing potential in his son, introduced him to William James Linton, the head of one of the best printing and engraving companies in England. Crane’s apprenticeship with Linton, from 1859-62, allowed him the opportunity to gain experience in several different printing and engraving methods. When the apprenticeship ended Crane took up an invitation to work as an illustrator for Edmund Evans, the leading woodblock colour printer of the time. Evan’s thought Crane’s vivid imagination would be well suited to children’s books, where he could apply his imagination to illustrate children’s nursery rhymes and fairy tales in short, inexpensive picture books referred to as Toy Books (popular in the Victorian era) for Routledge Publishing. Crane illustrated thirty-seven toy books over the next ten years, earning him the title “academician of the nursery,” and effectively pigeon-holing his artistic style as that of a children’s book illustrator. Though his work with Evans made him the most famous children’s book illustrator of his day, Crane was not enthusiastic about this handle, finding the work not very inspiring.

Crane’s most famous work is often considered to be the illustrations he created for Edmund Spenser’s 16th century epic poem, The Faerie Queene (originally published 1590). The design elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement clearly influenced Crane’s style in these illustrations where he looked to the English Gothic style for inspiration, viewing it as an honest time where the artists were craftsmen, and the craftsmen were artists. From the early 1880s, initially under the influence of his friend William Morris, Crane was closely associated with the Socialist movement. He did much to bring art into the daily life of all classes. He provided weekly cartoons for the Socialist publications Justice, Commonweal and The Clarion. Crane also devoted much time and energy to the work of the Art Workers Guild, of which he was Master in 1888 and 1889 and to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which he helped to found in 1888. His varied work included easel paintings, 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 was held at the Fine Art Society's galleries in Bond Street in 1891, and taken to the United States in the same year by the artist himself.