Walter Crane's Children's Illustrations for the Cause

Crane Cause


The success and historical relevance of the illustrator Walter Crane (1845-1915) came in no small part from his versatility as an artist, writer, and thinker. A member of the London bourgeoisie, Crane was also an active socialist, and his political belief in the cause of fair labor brought to his Fin-de-Siècle illustrations a self-consciously old-fashioned and moralistic aesthetic. Crane had made a name for himself as early as the 1860s as an illustrator of alphabets and nursery rhymes for small children. Later in his career, he combined his whimsical style of children’s illustration with his newer identity as a socialist. Often working in wood block illustrations and incorporating thematic elements evocative of simpler times, he created children’s illustrations with implicit socialist messages. By combining his two most celebrated careers, Crane collapsed the genres into one politicized paradigm, breaking down boundaries of genre and opening political dialogue in new spheres.

By 1865 the young Walter Crane, son of the portrait painter Thomas Crane, had already begun a successful career as an illustrator of toy books, beautiful and elaborate publications for small children that had an explosive golden age during the second half of the nineteenth century. Crane, with Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott, was one of their most celebrated illustrators. His career would take many turns, but he would never shed his reputation for his children’s books. Crane initially met this pigeonholing of his artistic talents with chagrin. He tried his hand at more “serious” art, hoping to produce allegorical paintings that would hang at the Royal Academy, but none of his works ever did, and when they made public appearances their reception was tepid at best. - more