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A Day in a Child's Life

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A Day in a Child's Life
A Day in a Child's Life
Born in 1846, the artist and illustrator Kate Greenaway wrote of her own childhood:
“Living in that childish wonder is a most beautiful feeling – I can so well remember it. There was always something more – behind and beyond everything – to me; the golden spectacles were very big.”

And A Day in a Child’s Life (1881) is full of that beautiful childish wonder. It is an illustrated children’s song book with pages full of quaint colour wood engravings. There is gentleness and delicacy, lightness and grace; and the children, dressed in historical costume even for the time, in clothes from the early 19th century, do indeed inhabit a golden past – one which is mostly set outside in the natural environment.

When her mother opened a millinery shop in Islington there was a garden behind the building that Kate Greenaway spent many hours in, and the flowers in the book are drawn with thought and detail, picked and placed like a florist might for the best composition. Slim-leaved daffodils look particularly tall and upright beside a line of standing children, hands behind their backs; and big-faced sunflowers stand like shining suns to either side of a child (with a head of golden curls) that’s just about to wake up… There was big public interest in flowers in Victorian times, floral dictionaries enjoyed a boom, and a few years later, in 1884, Kate Greenaway’s own The Language of Flowers became very popular.

Her mother’s shop grew to become a ladies’ outfitters as well as a milliner’s, and so Kate Greenaway would have felt a familiarity with clothes from an early age. She also sewed, and made early 19th century and Regency-era costumes for her child models to wear. The costumes had such an influence on contemporary children’s fashion that the department store Liberty’s even introduced a clothing line adapted from her illustrations.

A Day in a Child’s Life was engraved and printed by Edmund Evans (a former colleague of Kate Greenaway’s father who was also an engraver). As a printer he was notable for pushing forward printing technologies by using a woodblock printing technique known as chromoxylography, and he became preeminent in Victorian London for his work. He was known for his toy books and picture books for children, working with artists that included Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott. It was also Edmund Evans’ nephew, Miles Birket Foster, who wrote the music for A Day in a Child’s Life.

Kate Greenaway, who has given her name to our own contemporary illustration award, the Kate Greenaway Medal, has been an influential figure in illustration history:
“The fairyland that she creates for you is not beyond the sky nor beneath sea, but near you, even at your own doors. She does but show you how to see it” wrote the artist and critic John Ruskin. Kate Greenaway and John Ruskin were friends, and their correspondence with each other lasted until Ruskin’s death in 1900.