Walter Crane's Children's Illustrations for the Cause

Grimm Cover

Household Stories from the Collection of the Bros. Grimm (1893): Cover

The cover of Crane’s edition of Household Stories is a handsome blue embossed with a gold geometric pattern of lines, letters, and ornamental flourishes. It is unique for its distinctly non-illustrative design, which interweaves geometric patterns and shapes with figural elements that represent narratives instead of explicitly illustrating them. In typical Crane fashion, the design is pointedly aware of its author’s role in its creation. As usual, Crane calls attention to himself with his signature bird, this time riffing on his own concept by representing two cranes, one on either side of design that incorporates three initials: “W” for Walter, “C” for Crane, and “L” for Lucy, his sister, who translated the stories from the German. Also typical of his wont to call attention to his importance as illustrator and interpreter of another author’s words, Crane makes his own name supremely prominent and heavily adorned in the design on the cover.

These quirks aside, this cover design is relatively standard, if a bit ornate, for a book cover. It is most distinguished by the long, narrow strip running down the left side, in which various stylized figural representations make vague but evocative reference to the fairy tales held in store for the reader of this special volume: a goat, a cat, a rooster, two mice with some crumbs of food to share between them. The subject matter is to be expected; the format, though, is compelling in its verticality. The apparently random order of figures from top to bottom suggests that there could be more animals and magical creatures lurking in the progression above and below the edges of the book. Crane thus places the book in a tradition both literary and real, a canon of creatures that exist whether we see them or not, whether we read about them or not.

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