Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Illustrated Storybook, part II

Innocence illustrated: Early British Children’s Books

The industrial age brought a new worldview to the British Empire. A small group of wealthy Victorians called the shots while the large majority of the population led a less glorious existence. They may have had jobs, but the circumstances in which they lived were far below standard. The arts also suffered under the overwhelming power of industry. Inventiveness was hard to find.

 A Romance of the Three R’s (1886)
At the end of the century a group of socialist artists felt it was time for a change. ‘The Arts and Crafts Movement’ was founded under the leadership of designer and philosopher, William Morris (1834-1896). The Movement believed that the conditions of the working class would improve if they got acquainted with aesthetic objects. The movement’s goal was to bring art to the common people.

One of the first and most influential followers of the movement was the illustrator Walter Crane (1845-1915). Crane was a student of the socialist engraver W. J. Linton (1812-1897) and dedicated his life to idealistic illustration, design and the applied arts. Crane got his inspiration from a broad spectrum of existing styles like Japanese prints, Medieval/Renaissance prints and the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. The latter is beautifully displayed in the faces of Crane’s figures.

A Flower Wedding (1905)
The children’s books by Crane were extraordinary because he did not divide the book into text and illustrations. He combined these two to make one piece of art, a synthesis of the arts, a picture book in the modern sense of the word. This meant that Crane designed every part of the book himself. A beautiful example of this skill can be found in the book A Romance of the Three R’s (1886), in which the search for the metaphors of reading, writing and arithmetic is depicted. Another illustration of this expertise is shown in A Flower Wedding (1905). Here Crane characterizes the guests of the wedding party as if they were flowers and plants. Crane always signed his works with his initials and a small drawing of a crane (bird). For his children’s books, Crane frequently collaborated with the talented wood engraver and colour printer Edmund Evans (1826-1905).

Another illustrator who also collaborated with Evans was Crane’s female competitor, Kate Greenaway (1846-1901). Greenaway was not directly involved in the ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’, but was seen more as a follower of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Aesthetic movement’. Her illustrations were based on her own childhood memories. She drew innocent children playing outdoors, dressed in ‘Victorian’ Regency clothing. These costumes, invented by Greenaway, became so popular that a London manufacturer started producing them and are now referred to as Victorian, although they are not in principle. Greenaway’s illustrations are wonderfully soft and endowed with child-like virtue and charm. Her most famous book probably is Under the Window (1878) in which her illustrations are accompanied by sweet rhymes. But one of her most wanted works is The Language of Flowers (1884) which was meant as a handbook for pious Victorian women that made floral arrangements.
The Language of Flowers (1884)

Marigold Garden (1885)
Under the Window (1878)
Crane and Greenaway are key figures in late 19th century book illustration because of their break with tradition. They and the British illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886), were the first to start working with black outlines and soft flat colours instead of the more sketchy style of contemporary illustrators like John Tenniel (Alice in Wonderland). Crane and Greenaway stood at the dawn of the modern picture book.

Has this blog sparked your interest for book illustration and children’s literature? Please check out our newly released catalogue The Illustrated Storybook at or through the following link

Sanne Hansler