Walter Crane

Walter Crane, “Pegasus”, 1889, Pencil, Watercolor, and Bodycolor with Gum Arabic on Paper Laid on Linen, 71 x 71 cm, Private Collection

Born in Liverpool, England in August of 1845, Walter Crane was an English illustrator, painter, and designer primarily known for his illustrations of children’s books. Son of portrait painter Thomas Crane, he served as an apprentice to wood engraver W. J. Linton in London where he was able to study the works of the contemporary painters Dante Rossetti and John Millais, as well as  the Italian masters. Crane’s most important technical development was derived from his study of Japanese color wood-prints: he used these techniques in his 1869 to 1875 series of toy books.

Crane’s early paintings showed the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly John Ruskin’s works, and can be seen in Crane’s 1862 painting “The Lady of Shalott”, produced as an illustration for poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ballad of the same name. In 1864, Crane began to illustrate a series of sixpenny books of nursery rhymes for the color printer Edmund Evans. A more elaborate series, with influences from both the Japanese prints and early-Florentine painting, was begun in 1873 with the book “The Frog Prince”.

A strong instructive, moral element underlies much of Walter Crane’s work. For several years, he contributed weekly cartoons to the politically socialist periodicals “The Commonweal” and “Justice”. These cartoons were later published in a  collection entitled “Cartoons for the Cause” as a souvenir for the 1896 International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress in London. Between 1893 and 1899, Crane was art director of the Manchester School of Art, and then of Reading College, and finally was principal fo the Royal College of Art in Kensington, London for two years. 

Walter Crane worked with English designer and craftsman William Morris in 1894 on the page decorations of “The Story of the Glittering Plain”, printed in the style of sixteenth-century Italian and German woodcuts. Considered to be the best of Crane’s book illustrations are those in poet Edmund Spenser’s works, the 1895-97 “Faerie Queene” and “The Shepheardes Calendar”, published in 1897, both known for their design and vivid detail. He also illustrated the “Mrs Molesworth” collection of children’s novels, the 1873 edition of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, Oscar Wilde’s 1888 “The Happy Prince and Other Stories”, and British schoolteacher Nellie Dale’s instructive primer series “Teaching English Reading”, published between 1898 and 1907.

Walter Crane’s life ended on a tragic note. His wife of forty-four years, Mary Francis Crane, was found dead on the railroad tracks near Ashford Kent, England, ruled apparently a self-inflicted death due to temporary insanity. Heart broken, Walter Crane died three months later on March 14, 1915, in Horsham, Sussex, leaving behind three children. 

Top Insert Image: Frederick Hollyer, “Walter Crane”, Detail, Date Unknown, Platinum Print, 14.5 x 10.3 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bottom Insert Image: Walter Crane, “Britomart”, 1900, Watercolor on Paper, Library of Decorative Arts, Paris

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One thought on “Walter Crane

  1. Wow. i know i have been taken to other worlds by some of his work but i never knew his name. Thanks.(and there it is! i knew the “painting” would arrive at some point—there was nothing there but it said what it was to be so i went looking for it while i waited and when i found it and came back here—it has popped up.

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