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 Walter Crane  (1845 - 1915)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: children's book illustration, socialist posters

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Ad Code: 2
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from Auction House Records.
The Roll of Fate
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Walter Crane (1845-1915) was an English artist and book illustrator.  He is considered to be the most influential, and among the most prolific, children's book creator of his generation[1] and, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, one of the strongest contributors to the child's nursery motif that the genre of English children's illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century.  His work featured some of the more colourful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children's stories for decades to come.  He was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and produced an array of paintings, illustrations, children's books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts.

Walter Crane was born in Liverpool, England on 15 August 1845, the second son of Thomas Crane, a portrait painter and miniaturist.  He was a fluent follower of the newer art movements and he came to study and appreciate the detailed senses of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and was also a diligent student of the renowned artist and critic John Ruskin.  A set of colored page designs to illustrate Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" gained the approval of wood-engraver William James Linton to whom Walter Crane was apprenticed for three years (1859-1862).  As a wood-engraver he had abundant opportunity for the minute study of the contemporary artists whose work passed through his hands, of Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, as well as Alice in Wonderland illustrator Sir John Tenniel and Frederick Sandys.  He was a student who admired the masters of the Italian Renaissance, however he was more influenced by the Elgin marbles in the British Museum.  A further and important element in the development of his talent was the study of Japanese color-prints, the methods of which he imitated in a series of toy books, which started a new fashion.

From the early 1880s, initially under William Morris's influence, Crane was closely associated with the Socialist movement.  He did as much as Morris himself to bring art into the daily life of all classes. With this object in view he devoted much attention to designs for textiles and wallpapers, and to house decoration; but he also used his art for the direct advancement of the Socialist cause.  For a long time he provided the weekly cartoons for the Socialist organs Justice, The Commonweal and The Clarion.  Many of these were collected as Cartoons for the Cause.  He devoted much time and energy to the work of the Art Workers Guild, and to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded by him in 1888.  He was also a Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, a movement begun in 1890, whose aim was to promote the loose-fitting clothing, in opposition to "stiffness, tightness and weight".[2]  They produced numerous pamphlets setting out their cause, including one entitled 'How to Dress Without a Corset' which Crane illustrated.

Although not himself an anarchist, Crane contributed to several libertarian publishers, including Liberty Press and Freedom Press.  Following the Haymarket bombing, Crane made multiple trips to America where he spoke in defence of the eight anarchists accused of murder.[3]

Walter Crane died on 14 March 1915 in Horsham Hospital, West Sussex.  His body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium, where his ashes remain.  He was survived by three children, Beatrice, Lionel and Lancelot.

In 1862 his picture The Lady of Shalott was exhibited at the Royal Academy, but the Academy steadily refused his maturer work and after the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, he ceased to send pictures to Burlington House.  In 1863 the printer Edmund Evans employed Crane to illustrate yellowbacks, and in 1865 they began to collaborate on toy books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.[4]  From 1865 to 1876 Crane and Evans produced two to three toy books each year.[5]

In 1864 he began to illustrate a series of sixpenny toy books of nursery rhymes in three coours for Edmund Evans.  He was allowed more freedom in a series beginning with The Frog Prince (1874) which showed markedly the influence of Japanese art, and of a long visit to Italy following on his marriage in 1871.  His work was characterized by sharp outlines and flat tints.[6]  The Baby's Opera was a book of English nursery songs planned in 1877 with Evans, and a third series of children's books with the collective title Romance of the Three R's provided a regular course of instruction in art for the nursery.  In his early "Lady of Shalott", the artist had shown his preoccupation with unity of design in book illustration by printing in the words of the poem himself, in the view that this union of the calligrapher's and the decorator's art was one secret of the beauty of the old illuminated books.

He followed the same course in The First of May: A Fairy Masque by his friend John Wise, text and decoration being in this case reproduced by photogravure.  The Goose Girl illustration taken from his beautiful Household Stories from Grimm (1882) was reproduced in tapestry by William Morris.  Flora's Feast, A Masque of Flowers had lithographic reproductions of Crane's line drawings washed in with watercolour; he also decorated in color The Wonder Book of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Deland's Old Garden.  In 1894 he collaborated with William Morris in the page decoration of The Story of the Glittering Plain, published at the Kelmscott Press, which was executed in the style of 16th century Italian and German woodcuts.[7]  Crane illustrated editions of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (19 pts., 1894-1896) and The Shepheard's Calendar, as well as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1873), The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde (1888), an edition of Arthurian Legends, and A Flower Wedding.[6]

Crane wrote and illustrated three books of poetry, Queen Summer (1891), Renascence (1891), and The Sirens Three (1886).  Walter Crane illustrated Nellie Dale's books on Teaching English Reading: Steps to Reading, First Primer, Second Primer, Infant Reader, Book I, and Book II.  These were most probably completed between 1898 and 1907.

His own easel pictures, chiefly allegorical in subject, among them The Bridge of Life (1884) and The Mower (1891), were exhibited regularly at the Grosvenor Gallery and later at the New Gallery.  Neptune's Horses was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893, and with it may be classed his Rainbow and the Wave.

His varied work includes examples of plaster relief, tiles, stained glass, pottery, wallpaper and textile designs, in all of which he applied the principle that in purely decorative design "the artist works freest and best without direct reference to nature, and should have learned the forms he makes use of by heart."  An exhibition of his work of different kinds was held at the Fine Art Society's galleries in Bond Street in 1891, and taken to the United States in the same year by the artist himself.  It was afterwards exhibited in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.

Crane was elected a member of the Institute of Painters in Water Colors in 1882, resigning in 1886; two years later he became an associate of the Water Color Society (1888); he was an examiner for the Science and Art Department at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum; director of design at the Manchester Municipal School (1894); art director of Reading College (1896); and in 1898 for a short time principal of the Royal College of Art.  His lectures at Manchester were published with illustrated drawings as The Bases of Design (1898) and Line and Form (1900).  The Decorative Illustration of Books, Old and New (2nd ed., London and New York, 1900) is a further contribution to theory.  A well-known portrait of Crane by George Frederick Watts was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1893.

In 1887, Crane was commissioned by Emilie Barrington to paint a series of murals to decorate the newly constructed Red Cross Hall in Southwark, a project conceived by the housing campaigner Octavia Hill.[8]  Crane produced designs for nine panels and these were exhibited at the 1890 Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society show.  Ultimately, only three designs were converted into full-size murals, these being: Alice Ayres (1890) depicting the heroine of the Union Street fire which had occurred in 1885 just a few streets away;[9] Jamieson (1892) depicting two Scottish railway workers, Alex Jamieson and his nephew Alexander, who lost their lives in 1874 while working on the Glasgow and Paisley line;[10] Rescue from a Well (1894) depicting George Eales, a 58 year-old laborer who in December 1887 at Drummer, near Basingstoke in Hampshire descended into a well to rescued a five year-old child.  After 1894, no further murals were created, partly due to shortages in funding and other commitments but also because it was discovered that the gas lighting in the hall was damaging the paintings.[11] The Red Cross Hall is now in private hands and the whereabouts of the murals is unknown.

One of his last major works would be his lunettes at the Royal West of England Academy which were painted in 1913.

Notes and references:
1.  Delaney, Lesley (November 2010). "Walter Crane: A revolution in nursery picture books". Books for Keeps (185): 4-5.
2.  The Sanitary Record, W.H.Allen & Co, July 1890
3.  "Organise! Issue 40". Retrieved 2013-07-05.
4.  "Historical Children's Literature Collection". University of Washington.
5.  "Illustrated Books by Walter Crane". National Gallery of Canada. 2007.
6.  Souter, Nick and Tessa (2012). The Illustration Handbook: A guide to the world's greatest illustrators. Oceana. p. 20.
7.  British Library catalogue
8.  John Price, Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian (Bloomsbury: London, 2014)
9.  John Price, Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian, pp.72-77
10.  John Price, Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian, pp.77-79
11.  John Price, Everyday Heroism: Victorian Constructions of the Heroic Civilian, p.79
Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University


Biography from Christie's London, King Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

 Like so many members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Walter Crane was a great admirer of the "the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" poem, which he had first encountered when visiting Burne-Jones in the 1870s; he had seen a manuscript version, now in the British Library, which had been written by William Morris for Georgiana Burne-Jones and illuminated with figures designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Fairfax Murray.  About the same time that he painted The Roll of Fate he used the poem as an iconographical source for a scheme of lacquered gesso reliefs in the dining-room at 1 Holland Park, his contribution to the great Aesthetic interior created by Alexander Ionides, the Greek Consul-General in London, at this north Kensington mansion. 

The picture's subject was inspired by two bereavements that Crane suffered early in 1881, the death of his fourth infant child, a son, in January, followed by that of his sister Lucy in May.  In his autobiography, Crane describes how he and his wife were so distressed by the death of their child that they left London, settling during the spring of 1882 at Wickhurst, an old manor house 'on the side of a hill overlooking Seveanoaks Weald'.  It was there that he painted The Roll of Fate. F. G. Stephens, reviewing the Grosvenor exhibition in the Athenaeum, described the picture as 'a quaint but somewhat clumsy Renaissance allegory of Time enthroned within his temple'.  He liked the angel, 'a noble and manly figure, whose limbs are well drawn and modelled', but felt that Time was 'a poor conception' while the 'design in general' was 'an anachronism'.  The painting was one of the first of the later works in which Crane gave free rein to his fondness for allegory.  He returned to this area of subject matter in The Bridge of Life, exhibited at the Grosvenor in 1884 and sold at Christie's, London on 30 March 1990 (lot 512); and he continued to explore it almost until the end of his life. 

The Roll of Fate
was bought by Somerset Beaumont, a wealthy landowner and sometime member of parliament for Wakefield who was a loyal patron of Crane from the early 1870s.  He was the brother-in-law of the Rev. Stopford Brooke, the well-known preacher of Broad Church views who also owned many examples of Crane's work.   In general, however, these allegorical pictures were less appreciated in England than they were in Germany.  As Crane himself observed, 'possibly, apart from any artistic quality, the symbolic and figurative character of their subjects (was) more in keeping with the Teutonic mind'. 

The most consistent collector of these paintings was Ernst Seeger of Berlin, who owned, among others, The Bridge of Life and The Chariots of the Hours, a Wagnerian composition that won a gold medal at the Glass Palace Exhibition at Munich in 1895.  This is now lost, but many of Crane's paintings that found homes in Germany are now in German public collections. They include Neptune's Horses (1893; Munich), The Mower (1901; Karlsruhe), and A Masque of the Four Seasons (1905-9; Darmstadt).

His picture titled Laura Reading depicts the young woman for whom the poet Petrarch (1304-1374) nursed an unrequited passion.  Although born in Arezzo, he was brought up in Avignon, and it was there that he fell in love.  When Laura showed no sign of returning his ardour, he retired to Vaucluse, a romantic spot near Avignon, where he poured out his amorous feelings into sonnets for which he is famed.   The story has obvious parallels with that of Dante and Beatrice, but it attracted far less attention from artists working in the romantic tradition.  It is not easy to think of examples, apart, perhaps, from Petrarch's First Meeting with Laura by Ford Madox Brown's friend William Cave Thomas, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861 (see Heaven on Earth, exh. University of Nottingham, 1994, cat. no. 68, illustrated).

The origins of the painting lie in a fancy-dress ball that was planned in 1884 to celebrate the re-organization of the Institute of Painters in Watercolors and its move to new premises in Piccadilly.  The Institute's Committee undertook to arrange a masque representing different epochs in the history of art from Pheidias to Romney. As a member of the Committee, Crane was closely involved with the project, which he describes at length in his autobiography, An Artist's Reminiscences (1907).

Charged with portraying the art and architecture of Italy, a task so perfectly tailored to his talents that he can have needed little persuading, he decided to visualize the figures in terms of a triptych.  In the central section, figures emblematic of Florence were placed against a view dominated by the campanile of the Palazzo Vecchio, while similar groups symbolizing Venice and Rome were seen to either side.   The masque was considered such a success that the Lord Mayor commanded a repeat performance at the Mansion House, and Henry Irving commissioned Crane to recast his tableau as an elaborate watercolor. 

Dated 1885-6 and exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in the latter year, this remained in Irving's possession until his death in 1905, when it was sold at Christie's.  Crane reproduced it in his autobiography, and it is now in the City Art Gallery, Manchester.  In the central, Florentine, section of the triptych, Laura and Petrarch are seen in the middle distance, together with Dante, Beatrice and other figures, while Cimabue, the young Giotto (still as a shepherd boy) and Niccolo Pisano occupy the foreground.  Many of these figures, as well as those in the flanking groups representing Venice and Rome, were modeled by Crane's family and friends.  Crane portrayed himself as Cimabue, while his wife Mary posed for Laura, his son Lionel for Giotto, and his daughter Beatrice for an early Florentine angel.  Laura Reading  is a version of the figure of Laura as she appears in the triptych.  It not only shows the entire figure, which in the triptych is partly obscured by Dante, but is on a larger scale and in the more durable medium of oil.  Crane does not tell us if Mary Crane played the part of Laura in the original pageant, but the mere fact that she modeled for her in the triptych is enough to explain why he decided to make an independent and more substantial record of her in this role.  He was a devoted husband, and over the years had painted her in many guises.

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