Walter Crane was born in the small town of Liverpool in August 1845 in an artistic household. Without a doubt, he became one of the most prominent names of children's illustrations of the XIX century. Crane worked with classic texts such as The Frog Prince, the poem The Faerie Queenie, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Don Quixote, and some of Brothers Grimm's tales. The artist's work reflects the Pre-Raphaelite influence on illustration and is full of details and mesmerizing use of color.
Thomas Crane, Walter's father, was a portrait painter. Few of Thomas' works have survived, but portraits such as The Artist's Son Walter and Walter and Lucy Crane give us a glimpse of the Crane family's daily life. Lucy, who was pictured along with Walter, became a distinguished author, working on nursery rhymes and translating Household Stories, by the Grimm Brothers, to English. She frequently collaborated with her brother during their lives, providing verses for his drawings. Thomas, Walter's older brother, also became an illustrator.
Pursuing a bigger market for his craft, Thomas decided to move with the family to London in 1857. Their relocation to the British Capital was crucial not only for him but for his son as well. Walter's friend showed his drawings to the important Victorian art critic John Ruskin, including a series of works in color based on Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott.
Even though Ruskin appreciated Crane's series, William James Linton, who also saw the same drawings, eventually became Crane's mentor. Linton was considered a top-tier artist regarding wood engraving and also was a poet and writer. With the orientation of his master, Walter's first work was creating preparatory sketches on wood. It was during this period that he initiated his journey in book illustrations.
Walter Crane worked in the offices of William James Linton until 1862. During one of these evenings, he met John Ruskin in person when Walter was only 15. Ruskin was one of their clients, and even if they didn't speak directly, Crane felt honored to be in the presence of the man he admired.
Although Crane had a great admiration for his contemporaries, he didn't leave behind the Classical influences of the Italian Renaissance. He was interested in new art, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood served as inspiration for the British illustrator.
He studied the work of artists like Sir John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also studied the production of other illustrators, becoming acquainted with many artists when he was working for Linton.
Just as the Impressionists and many other Modern painters who came after, Crane was inspired by the bright and colorful prints of the Japanese woodcut prints, another notable influence that came to him when making designs for woodblocks. The artist's bold use of color can be traced back to the influential Japanese woodcut technique called ukiyo-e.
Right after leaving the Linton office, the artist had to sort things out. He still contributed with drawings but began to make illustrations for regional journals as well. He adapted and, through personal contacts, concluded some commissions for a religious publisher.
Another significant commission he received during this time was a sizable group of drawings for an Encyclopedia. Most of this work was poorly paid, but necessary for the artist to create his network of clients.
In 1863, Crane was employed by Edmund Evans, a British printer, to illustrate novels known as yellowbacks. About two years later, they collaborated on several toy book projects, in which they portrayed fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
Toy books were prevalent during the Victorian Era in England, and together they produced up to three per year up to 1876. In 1886, Crane wrote and illustrated his poetry book, named Sirens Three. He later wrote and illustrated two more books of poetry in 1891.
Highly respected as an illustrator, the paintings of Walter Crane are a part of his production that is relatively overlooked. Exhibiting his early The Lady of Shalott in the Royal Academy in 1862, the artist never again showed his works in the institution.
The Renaissance of Venus is a primary example of the artist's skill as a painter. Inspired by his honeymoon in Italy and making a direct reference to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, the tempera painting shows the tender treatment for which the Pre-Raphaelites were known.
With the emergence of the Grosvenor Gallery, which was created as a competitor to the Royal Academy, Walter Crane had a new space to show his artworks as a painter. The Mower and The Bridge of Life were both regularly exhibited at Grosvenor. The New Gallery, created in 1889, was the home of the painting Neptune's Horses.
Since the artist produced works in many different mediums, such as stained glass, reliefs, watercolors, and even furniture, he had a show at the Fine Art Society in 1891 that was focused on these varied works. The event was so successful that he traveled to the US with it.
Walter Crane became affiliated with the Socialist movement by the early 1880s, as did the poet and textile designer William Morris. He began developing his work with the intent of it becoming part of the everyday life of every social level, mostly producing decoration for houses, like wallpapers and textile designs. The illustrator also created cartoons with a social cause for newspapers.
The Modern movement of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was founded in 1888, with Crane as one of the frontrunners. He was deeply committed to the Art Workers Guild, which was also connected to the ideas of William Morris and the new British movement.
Ahead of his time, Crane worked on a project for a modern clothing line, focusing on comfort and even encouraging women to dress without a corset. Without a doubt, Crane's political view created quite a controversial stir in his career, and he lost financial support during a period.
Crane was a multi-talented artist, working with a wide variety of media, like stained glass, pottery, plaster relief, textile, and wallpaper designs. In 1882, the British painter was elected as a member of the New Society of Painters in Water Colours in London, and in 1888, he became associated with the Water Colour Society. He became deeply praised throughout his career and received an Albert Medal from the Royal Society of Arts in 1904.
Acting according to his convictions, like his affiliates John Ruskin and William Morris did, Walter Crane translated his socialist worries into a constant engagement in education. His experience was related to work and non-formal training, and yet he was the art director of Reading College in 1896 and planned a new curriculum for the Royal College of Art in 1889.
This curriculum emphasized the handling of materials, an aspect that the Bauhaus courses brought forth decades later. He gave many lectures on Design and Illustration at Manchester University. Walter Crane died at 69 years old, in Horsham, West Sussex, in March 1915, in his home country.