Walter Crane is one of my favorite illustrators of children’s books, and I show neither originality nor perspicacity in feeling that way. Appreciating his work is akin to recognizing that blue skies, rainbows, and oceans are lovely. For instance, look at what beauties greet the eye if you merely plug “Walter Crane” into a search engine (I used Bing), choose ‘images,’ and take a screen shot of the results:
Walter Crane (1845–1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He is considered to be the most prolific and influential children’s book creator of his generation and, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, one of the strongest contributors to the child’s nursery motif that the genre of English children’s illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century. His work featured some of the more colourful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children’s stories for decades to come. He was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and produced an array of paintings, illustrations, children’s books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts.
He wrote a book about illustration in books, Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New (Online at Gutenberg), where he says this about children’s books:
As, until recently, I suppose I was scarcely known out of the nursery, it is meet that I should offer some remarks upon children’s books. Here, undoubtedly, there has been a remarkable development and great activity of late years. We all remember the little cuts that adorned the books of our childhood. The ineffaceable quality of these early pictorial and literary impressions afford the strongest plea for good art in the nursery and the schoolroom. Every child, one might say every human being, takes in more through his eyes than his ears, and I think much more advantage might be taken of this fact.
If I may be personal, let me say that my first efforts in children’s books were made in association with Mr. Edmund Evans. Here, again, I was fortunate to be in association with the craft of colour-printing, and I got to understand its possibilities. The books for babies, current at that time—about 1865 to 1870—of the cheaper sort called toy books were not very inspiriting. These were generally careless and unimaginative woodcuts, very casually coloured by hand, dabs of pink and emerald green being laid on across faces and frocks with a somewhat reckless aim. There was practically no choice between such as these and cheap German highly-coloured lithographs. The only attempt at decoration I remember was a set of coloured designs to nursery rhymes by Mr. H. S. Marks, which had been originally intended for cabinet panels. Bold outlines and flat tints were used. Mr. Marks has often shown his decorative sense in book illustration and printed designs in colour, but I have not been able to obtain any for this book.
It was, however, the influence of some Japanese printed pictures given to me by a lieutenant in the navy, who had brought them home from there as curiosities, which I believe, though I drew inspiration from many sources, gave the real impulse to that treatment in strong outlines, and flat tints and solid blacks, which I adopted with variations in books of this kind from that time (about 1870) onwards. Since then I have had many rivals for the favour of the nursery constituency, notably my late friend Randolph Caldecott, and Miss Kate Greenaway, though in both cases their aim lies more in the direction of character study, and their work is more of a pictorial character than strictly decorative. …
Children’s books and so-called children’s books hold a peculiar position. They are attractive to designers of an imaginative tendency, for in a sober and matter-of-fact age they afford perhaps the only outlet for unrestricted flights of fancy open to the modern illustrator, who likes to revolt against “the despotism of facts.” …
Miss Charlotte Mason had this to say about these ‘toy books’ and illustrations in Children’s picture books:
The art training of children should proceed on two lines. The six-year-old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines. Therefore it is a lamentable thing when the appreciation of children is exercised only upon the coloured lithographs of their picture-books or of the ‘Christmas number.’
…the minds of children and of their elders alike accommodate themselves to what is put in their way; and if children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated.
Volume 1, chapter 21
And also this:
We make a great point of giving play to the intelligent curiosity of the children about all that lives and grows within their ken. For instance, I should think most of ‘our’ mothers would feel disgraced if her child of six were not able to recognise any ordinary British tree from a twig with leaf-buds only. It’s Nature’s lore, and the children take to it like ducks to the water; the first six or seven years of their lives are spent out of doors––in possible weather––learning this sort of thing, instead of pottering over picture-books and A B C.
Volume 5, section 5
Two of my interests intersected in my reading this morning, as Crane includes a few illustrations of the work of artist HEywood Sumner, about whom he says,
Mr. Heywood Sumner shows a charming decorative sense and imaginative feeling, as well as humour.
Sumner sounded familiar to me, so I spent some time looking up more information about him, and learned that, not only was he a respected illustrator and artist, and the father of five, according to this website :
Quote:In the 1890s Sumner broke away from ‘the elitism of the William Morris clique’ and helped set up the Fitzroy Picture Society, ‘a group of artists dedicated to producing boldly coloured prints that could be sold cheaply to liven up the walls of public institutions such as schools and hospitals’.
That reminded me that Miss Mason says this, volume 1, page 309:
Quote:By the way, for schoolroom decorations, I know of nothing better than the Fitzroy Pictures [see Appendix A.], especially those of the Four Seasons, where you get beauty, both of line and colour, and poetic feeling.
Oh, so THAT’S what she meant by the Fitzroy Pictures. No wonder Mason recommended them- their goals were a perfect match for somebody who wanted ‘a liberal education for all‘ during a time when social status was inherited and the only education most people thought suitable for children of the lower classes was strictly utilitarian- what would they need to know for a job (hmm, not so very different from today, sadly).
Here is one of the Fitzroy Pictures of the Four Seasons (Summer) by Sumner himself:
And this is fall, or rather, autumn:
Today is November 4th, and in keeping with a number of my friends who are listing things they are thankful for each day of this month, I would list these things- not that they are the most important things in my life, but they are little things for which I am thankful, things that sometimes are taken for granted:
The internet and the ability that comes with it to search these things out
The illustrations of Crane and Sumner
A blog with which I can share my esoteric and eclectic interests and rabbit chases with others who might also share them, but if not, who also at least humour me.=)