Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Happy Birthday Walter Crane

The English artist and illustrator Walter Crane was born on this day in 1845. The second child of a Liverpudlian portrait painter, Crane is today recognised as one of the most significant Victorian children's illustrators, alongside Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway.

One of the best examples MoDA holds of Crane's illustrations is a later publication titled, 'A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden'. The colour processes for this book involved printing in relief, possibly from wood. The cut-off forms in the designs suggest the influence of Japanese woodcuts: a method of printing that greatly interested Crane. You can look at a full copy of the book here.

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden by Walter Crane, 1899 [BADDA3036, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture]

From the 1870s and following his success in book illustration, Crane began to design wallpaper. In an interview in Studio, Vol.4 1894, he reflects on his progression to this medium: "My nursery papers grew out of my nursery books; from the nursery paper to those for general use was but a step, and one that followed naturally enough... I own there is not necessarily much in common between books and walls in the abstract (except when walls were people's picture-books), but in my case the connection is obvious; for you see, if I had not first been a book-decorator, I might never have been a designer of wallpapers."

'Sleeping Beauty'. wallpaper designed by Walter Crane and manufactured by Jeffrey & Co., 1879 [SW2090, MoDA] 

Whilst MoDA' Silver Studio Collection contains fine examples of Crane's work, we also hold other ephemeral items of a more personal nature. Arthur and Isabella Silver counted Walter and Mary Crane amongst their circle of friends. The Crane's home was a short distance from the Silver's residence at 84 Brook Green Road in West London and their children were friends. The Cranes appear in the Silver's family albums and we hold letters and correspondence between the two families.

One unusual item in the collection is a picture postcard of Mr and Mrs Crane on a camel inscribed with a note from Mrs Crane to Mrs Silver inviting her to visit: ' Mistress Crane / bids you welcome to Old House / 13 Holland Street W / June 30 / 9.30-1.00 / RSVP.'

A picture postcard of Mr and Mrs Crane on a camel with a note on the verso to Mrs Silver [SE521, MoDA]

At the sudden death of Arthur Silver in 1896, Crane sent a condolence letter. He remembered Arthur thus: 'He was an able and graceful designer and an amiable character...his peacock cretonne in the Arts and Crafts is particularly charming'. Walter himself died in 1915, three months after his wife Mary was tragically killed in a train accident.

Letter from Walter Crane to M Webb on the death of Arthur Silver, 1896 [SE522, MoDA]
MoDA is proud to be one of several museums who can showcase the work of this important artist through our collection (Also check out the V&A's collection online and the Whitworth Gallery's online catalogue). Today seems a worthy one on which to remember the fine work of a great man. Happy Birthday Walter Crane.

1 comment:

  1. I liked reading about book design led to wallpaper design. And I really love the word, 'Liverpudlian' :)