Walter Crane – British Illustrator and Designer (1845-1915)

Walter Crane was an English illustrator, painter, and designer primarily known for his imaginative illustrations of children’s books.

He was born in Liverpool on 15 August 1845, moving to London with his family in 1857.

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His career was very varied, but he is best remembered today as an illustrator of children’s books, a field in which he was prolific throughout his life.

His work for adults included designing wallpaper, and he was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement that tried to rehabilitate good design and craftsmanship.

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Probably the most important technical development in his art derived from his study of Japanese colour prints, whose methods he used in a series of toy books (1869–75), thereby starting a new fashion.

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La belle Dame Sans Merci, 1865, W. Crane
La belle Dame Sans Merci, 1865, W. Crane

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Crane first met William Morris in 1870 but did not become close friends until 1881. The two men both deplored the effects of modern manufacturing and the commercial system of craftsmanship and design. Deeply influenced by Morris‘s pamphlet Art & Socialism, Crane became involved in both the Art Workers’ Guild and the Arts and Crafts Society. Like Morris, Crane created designs for wallpapers, printed fabrics, tiles and ceramics.

Crane and Morris were both socialists and in January 1884 they joined the Social Democratic Federation. Crane contributed illustrations for the party journal Justice that was edited by Henry Hyde Champion.

By the late 1880s Crane was considered Britain’s leading socialist artist and was asked to illustrate books such as Chants of Labour by Edward Carpenter and The New Party by Andrew Reid. Crane also provided the art work for The Triumph of Labour, a poster that commemorated May Day in 1891. A collection of Crane‘s political cartoons, Cartoons for the Cause, were published as a souvenir of the International and Trade Union Congress that met in London in 1896.

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What are the major works of Walter Crane?

The most important works of Crane are:

  • Princess Belle-Etoile (1834),
  • The Lady of Shalott (1862),
  • Ruth and Boaz (1863),
  • La belle Dame Sans Merci (1865),
  • The Frog Prince (1874),
  • Diana and Endymion (1883),
  • Little Bo Peep (1885),
  • The miller, his son and the donkey – Baby’s Own Aesop (1887),
  • The Swan Maidens (1894).
Baby's Own Aesop, 1887, W. Crane
Baby’s Own Aesop, 1887, W. Crane

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