Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Illustrations beyond books with Kate Greenaway

This week the Kate Greenway Medal shortlist was announced. The medal is an annual award in Britain, recognizing outstanding illustration in books for children. The 2013 shortlist includes established artists such as Helen Oxenbury and Chris Haughton as well as emerging talent such as Jon Klassen.

This illustrious award is named after the children's book illustrator and author Kate Greenaway who was born on the 17th of March 1846. Greenaway, along with Walter Crane and Randolph Caledcott, is recognized as one of the most enduring figures in children's book illustration. During her lifetime and well beyond, Greenaway's work was reproduced on products ranging from greeting cards to wallpapers and tiles. Greenaway's wallpapers in MoDA's collection include the nursery paper below.We also have a design on paper produced by the Silver Studio for a nursery wallpaper which has obviously been influenced by Greenaway's style.

'Sanitary' nursery wallpaper based on Kate Greenaway illustrations, designed by David Walker in around 1895, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SW797A
Design for a nursery wallpaper based on the work of Kate Greenaway by the Silver Studio ca.1891. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD8381A

The phenomenon of 'Greenaway children' in late nineteenth century fashion is perhaps the most striking example of the influence Greenaway exerted in the period . The particular style of dress in her illustrations (a homage of sorts to Regency-era fashions with smocks and skeleton suits) became a popular style for children, to the point where Liberty's released a clothing line inspired by Greenaway's illustrations. Old fashioned, quaint and dainty, idyllic and romantic, Greenaway's depiction of children's fashion was taken up by disciples of the Arts and Crafts Movement and to this day we associate Aesthetic fashions with her work.

I wonder if any other illustrators working today have a similar level of influence to that enjoyed by Greenaway  in the late-nineteenth century? Her work launched itself from the pages of books and permeated the world of fashion and home interiors. Past Greenaway Medal winner Lauren Child perhaps comes close with her characters Charlie and Lola (search for the characters' names on Amazon, and there are as many products listed in the homeware department as in books). The 2013 Greenaway Medal recipient will be announced in June and who knows? Perhaps this years winner will become the Greenaway of our time.


  1. I ran across this blog while researching a 19th century fragment of Kate Greenaway wallpaper.

    Do you know anything about this design? It appears to be signed (near the little girl's feet).

  2. HI Michele
    Sorry, can't shed any light on your design, though it looks very nice! Our design is by the Silver Studio and was sold to Glasgow firm Wylie & Lochead (cabinet makers and furnishers) in 1894, probably for a wallpaper. Do let us know if you find out anything else about yours.