I was labelled a designer of children's books long ago - although designs for children's books [...] have only formed a comparatively small part of my work (1).'
This quotation comes from Walter Crane's essay about his illustrated books for children. Crane was a prolific artist, illustrating upwards of sixty children's stories, as well as easel paintings, cartoons and extensive design works. With the exception of the essay quoted above, Crane was reluctant to comment on his children's books, though they were what made him famous in his day as part of the 'nursery triumvirate,' which also included Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott. Crane's fame from his children's books overshadowed his work as a designer, painter and cartoonist throughout his life. He was politically active as a socialist and an early follower of the Arts and Crafts Movement, becoming the president of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society for over a decade. As well as Arts and Crafts, he was also influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism as well as Aestheticism.
His books are not a manifesto of his personal beliefs, but they do reflect the society and the artist that created them. By looking at examples from different Walter Crane illustrations from books in the Central Library collection, we will see that Crane's illustrations for children show some of the most important artistic movements in the late-Victorian period. By examining these illustrations, the hope would be to better understand the artist and his society.
(1) Walter Crane 'Notes on My Own Books for Children,' The Imprint (1913): 81.