The Work of Walter Crane

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Not the first time Walter Crane has been featured here but this slim volume (62 pages) is a useful overview of the artist’s work which covers all aspects of his career: fine art, book illustration, political design (Crane was a lifelong Socialist), textiles for William Morris, and interior design. There’s more Walter Crane at Wikimedia Commons.

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Walter Crane’s Picture Books

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Beauty and the Beast.

British artist and designer Walter Crane never illustrated a Perrault collection but he did illustrate individual editions of Perrault’s more well-known tales. These illustrations are from collections published in 1911 of the small books of nursery rhymes, alphabets and stories for children that Crane produced in the 1870s. The clear-line drawings are unusual for their avoidance of the decor one usually sees with these stories; Crane admired the work of the Pre-Raphaelites but the settings are a lot less medieval than some of his other books, the architecture and costumes owing more to the Empire style.

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The Frog Prince.

Crane wrote several design books, including a very good one about the history of book design. His drawings for children may be simple but they’re all very precise and often contain significant details; many of the larger compositions draw the eye into the background with views through doors or windows, or into remote vistas. Crane also adapted each story into verse, and even manages to represent an act of metamorphosis in a single picture for the moment when the Frog Prince turns human. Elsewhere some of the pages are almost comic-like in their arrangement of multiple panels and text.

The samples here are taken from three different collections:

Beauty and the Beast / The Frog Prince / The Hind in the Wood
Cinderella / Puss in Boots / Valentine and Orson
The Sleeping Beauty / The Baby’s Own Alphabet / Bluebeard

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The Hind in the Wood.

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The Royal Picture Alphabet

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Another pictorial alphabet but no architecture this time. “Royal” is used here in the more general sense of “grand” or “first-rate”, and this isn’t the only example of an instruction book for children that calls its alphabet a royal one. John Leighton’s Royal Picture Alphabet is a finer example than others to be found at the Internet Archive, however, where the results are either very simple or, in the case of Walter Crane’s Absurd ABC, might have benefitted from additional pages. It’s surprising that Leighton’s book is a more substantial piece of work than Crane’s when Crane wrote a history of book design. Leighton’s alphabet is also surprisingly polysyllabic; you can’t imagine anyone today choosing “Eccentricity” to represent the letter E.

Books such as this always have trouble with the letters at the end of the alphabet, especially that tricky X. The Royal Picture Alphabet chooses “Xantippe”, the wife of Socrates, while its earlier counterpart has “Xanthus”, a horse from Greek mythology. (That old stand-by, the xylophone, didn’t become established until later in the 19th century.) Both books, and Crane’s volume, offer “Zany” for the letter Z.

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Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio

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Aubrey Beardsley in the year 1893 was 21, and on the threshold of being catapulted to fame (and notoriety) via his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Some of Beardsley’s drawings in the distinctive style he called “Japanesque” had already appeared in The Pall Mall Magazine, and he was hard at work on some 600 illustrations and embellishments for Dent’s Le Morte D’Arthur which began publication in 1894. Some of those illustrations are featured in the glowing introduction by Joseph Pennell which appeared in the first issue of The Studio magazine in April 1893 (when Beardsley was still only 20), a title that became the leading showcase for the British end of the Art Nouveau movement in the 1890s. Pennell’s appreciation also included Beardsley’s Joan of Arc’s Entry into Orleans, a piece which showed how much the artist’s early work owed to Mantegna, and the first drawing of Salomé which later helped secure the Wilde commission. The Joan of Arc picture was reproduced as a fold-out supplement in the magazine’s second issue.

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All the major Beardsley books refer to Pennell’s article but I’ve never had the opportunity to see it in full until now, thanks to the excellent online archives at the University of Heidelberg. There are many volumes of the international editions of The Studio at the Internet Archive but for some reason these don’t include the early numbers; at Heidelberg we can now browse the missing issues. In the first volume in addition to Beardsley there’s a piece about Frederic Leighton’s clay studies for paintings and sculptures, illustrations by Walter Crane and Robert Anning Bell, and an article on whether nude photography can be considered art. In this last piece several of the examples happen to be provided by Frederick Rolfe aka Baron Corvo, and Wilhelm von Gloeden, two men who we now know had other things on their mind when they were photographing Italian youths.

The collected volumes of The Studio from 1893 to 1898 may be browsed or downloaded here. I’ve not had time to go through the rest of these so I’m looking forward to discovering what else they may contain.

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Joseph Southall’s Bluebeard

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The Charles Perrault fairy tale given an Arts and Crafts interpretation by British artist Joseph Southall (1861–1944). This is a slim volume from 1895 with illustrations very much in the manner of Walter Crane’s work for William Morris. As with all such stories from the Victorian era, the grim nature of the tale is buried under a profusion of ornament and painstaking detail. Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.

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