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Flora's Feast by Walter Crane

Flora's Feast by Walter Crane
Flora's Feast by Walter Crane
'Flora's Feast: A Masque of Flowers' by Walter Crane illustrates Queen Flora summoning the annual procession of flowers in her garden. This story demonstrates the development of the child-in-garden motif, as the flowers are anthropomorphised as human figures.

Active in the late Victorian period, Walter Crane is now regarded as one of the most prolific children's book illustrators of his time, despite his insistence on being a versatile craftsman and painter. The nineteenth century witnessed an increasing awareness of childhood as a key developmental stage that represented innocence. This attitude shaped social change, motivating the establishment of reforms and institutions aimed at protecting the young. Another way in which this nostalgia for childhood manifested was in the popularity of children's books, or 'Toy Books'. This particular example reveals the growing importance of children as a distinct audience through the use of a more simplistic visual style.

The subject matter of 'Flora's Feast' is light-hearted and fanciful as opposed to being heavily didactic. Nevertheless this book repeatedly exhibits the influence of the creators own personal political beliefs, which is unsurprising as Crane himself firmly regarded art as a social product. Crane was a self-proclaimed socialist and his artistic oeuvre includes pamphlets and posters for left-wing groups. In her analysis of Crane's work in this area Morna O'Neill subverts the tendency to dismiss his children's books as pure escapism and instead argues that for Crane the symbol of the garden was always supposed to represent the ideal society often depicted in socialist visual culture (1).

On the whole this particular book demonstrates Crane's scope and his intentions to re-think the importance of artificial barriers between fine art and decorative art and between the elite and the popular (2). This is achieved through the interaction of various artistic styles, such as : the Arts and Crafts movement, the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Art Nouveau, Aestheticism, and the art of the Renaissance. In a clear attempt to broaden the audience of the art world, Crane incorporates these influences into a unique visual aesthetic that primarily appealed to children and was exhibited in an accessible format.

He saw art as a tool for transforming society, and whilst many theorised about the role of the artist in society in this book Crane puts his ideas into practice by imagining a new future and attempting to be instrumental in realising that future by addressing his beliefs to the next generation (3).

View more of Walter Crane's beautiful children's illustrations on this theme in the exhibition, 'In the Garden: Walter Crane's children's books'.

(1) Morna O'Neill, 'Walter Crane's Floral Fantasy: The Garden in Arts and Crafts Politics', Garden History, Vol.34, No.2 (2008), pp.290-1.

(2) Morna O'Neill, 'Walter Crane: The Arts and Crafts, Painting, and Politics, 1875-1890', Yale University Press (2010), p.2.

(3) Walter Crane, 'The Prospects of Art Under Socialism' in 'The Claims of Decorative Art', Lawrence and Bullen (1892), p.78.