Walter Crane's Children's Illustrations for the Cause


Crane’s personal bookplate (n.d.)

Even for private use, Crane’s design philosophy combined socialist aesthetics and symbols with conventions of children’s literature, such as anthropomorphosis and simple rhyme. The bookplate that he pasted into his own copy of The Story of the Glittering Plain is a paean to the autonomy of the artist, the superior beauty of nature and leisure and learning, and the spiritual benefits of fancy – all key elements to the socialist cause in their evocation of the authority of pleasure and aesthetic unity in the good life.

A tool for identification of ownership, the plate refers to its creator (and the book’s owner) in three different registers. The first is the most straightforward: “Walter Crane,” printed across the top of the image. The leading “W” appears in two forms; first, roughly formed by four paintbrushes, and then below on the artist’s palette from which the brushes emerge. That Crane echoes the form of the “W” in his brushes is consistent with his socialistic philosophy of integrating art and life, of living as an artist and as a man, and of creating work that is consistent with one’s identity. The second register, the central illustration, depicts Crane as his animal alter-ego; Crane, as he often does, depicts himself as a crane, anthropomorphized as he contemplates a “Book of Verses,” “Jug of Wine,” and “Loaf of Bread.” As in Cartoons for the Cause, Crane introduces human activity into an idealized natural setting, thus illuminating the beauty of nature and art and extolling the glory of combinations thereof. Also like the Cartoons, this illustration depicts a moment of leisure.

Finally, Crane inscribes the illustration with a large “C” – for Crane – which becomes part of the background design for the plate. This is combined with an abstract foliage motif and literal representations of a pen and pencil that form the border of the entire composition. The “C” is, ultimately, the primary focus of the plate’s design – a design, of course, that exists for the primary purpose of identifying Crane. The plate’s sophisticated design, though, does not merely convey a name. Rather, it conveys an aesthetic of integrated design and art, resembling in its incorporation of image and text Crane’s and Morris’s work on the title page of The Story of the Glittering Plain, which presented multiple layers of intertwined image and text. The huge letter “C” focuses both compositional and thematic meaning on Crane’s artistic identity: Crane himself is an artist-craftsman, the pinnacle of the socialist ideal.

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