Walter Crane: His Art and Life through Illustrations

by Tolovaj

Walter Crane was an important painter and illustrator who tried to incorporate art in almost every single item from 'regular' life. Let's check some of his art work!

Walter Crane was undoubtedly one of the most influential artists in last two centuries. He was not only a painter and illustrator of numerous books and magazines, he also designed tiles, wallpapers, pottery, was one of the founding members of Arts and Crafts movement which revolutionized attitude towards art, a tutor, a lecturer, a writer, an educator and a devoted socialist who among other things set one of the most important milestones in the history of picture books.

(intro image: portrait of Walter Crane by George Frederic Watts, all used images are in public domain)

Let's explore Walter Crane's life and style through 10 of his finest works!

1. The Lady of Shalott

This is where everything started. Walter was talented youngster who managed to create this oil painting as an apprentice at wood engraver William James Linton (1812-1897) who gave him a chance to engrave plates after works of the artists like Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882) or John Tenniel (1820-1914), so Walter got a chance to learn from the best. When he created The Lady of Shalott, he was only 17 years old.

The Lady of Shallot

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, dream of every painter in Great Britain, but his true call was in much more down to earth profession - one year later Edmund Evans (1826-1905) employed his as an illustrator of so called yellow books and these two men probably made the most important step in the evolution of children's literature. Let's see few examples!

Toy Books by Edmund Evans

Crane as an illustrator and Evans as an engraver and a printer made about three picture books every year from 1859 to 1871. We can in these years a picture book as specific media was not only born, but became a product, accessible to masses. So called yellow books and later more quality toy books were sold at train stations and other places with high traffic of possible buyers. High circulation guaranteed low prices and low prices led to higher number of buyers, which led to higher profits. Evans invested them in improved technology and Crane paid more and more attention to the details.

2. The Frog Prince (1874):

Frog Prince by Walter Crane
Frog Prince by Walter Crane

A picture book was not a book with pictures anymore, it became a book with standardized number of pages, predictable quantity of full page illustrations, half page images and illustrations in facing pages formats, with text and images mixed into unique graphic results, sometimes on the verge of today's comics and often with original typography, designed specifically for the chosen edition. Of course a cooperation between best illustrator and best printer of the mid-nineteenth century couldn't last forever without crashes. Evans was a great businessman in constant search for additional profit margins and Crane an idealist, who tried to improve every single detail of each of his creations, no matter how much time and money this would take.

Cane became one of the most important artists of Art Nouveau style (another fine example is Anne Anderson as another great illustrator from slightly later times)

More than a decade of fruitful cooperation is much more than majority of cooperations between similarly powerful personalities (read: strong egos) achieved, so we can all be very thankful to get what Crane and Evans had made.

3. The Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane

Walter Crane: Beauty and the Beast

Edmund Evans continued his successful business with two superb illustrators: Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott.

Each of them made a huge impact on the development of picture books as a genre and deserves a dedicated article on its own, so we should only add that two of the most prestigious awards for illustrators got names by Mr. Caldecott and Miss Greenaway.

Mr. Crane also never ran out of projects. He even made several picture books from scratch, with his own stories and The Fairy Ship is probably the most known of them.

4. The Flower Wedding
Flower Wedding

You can buy it on-line, but it's also available for free at one of my favorite resources:

5. The Fairy Ship

The Fairy Ship: Walter Crane

And here is another of Crane's by-products: a coloring book, where half of the pictures are colored as Mr. Crane thought they should be and another half is not colored, so you can compare your artistic vision with Crane's.

You can download whole book here:

6. A Painting Book

Painting Book by Walter Crane
Painting Book by Walter Crane

If you are in the mood for something more demanding, you can enjoy in Crane's map of British Empire with many details which translated an informative map into artistic work, which can be enjoyed many decades after the facts on the map became useless. By the way, this work, which is in public domain like all others on the page, is already used and abused in thousands of works on the web.

7. Map of British Empire in 1886 by Walter Crane

british empire map by walter crane

Best of the best of Walter Crane's art

Color printing was one of the major reasons for popularity of illustrated books, but Walter Crane himself (and dozens of important critics agree with him) considered his best work a book with fairy tales by brother's Grimm, which is all done in black and white.

If we take some time to expect the details on full illustrations and vignettes, we can see how the creative power of the artist shines in full potential in very limited space just thanks to the skillful use of lines and play of shadows and light.

8. Grimms' Fairy Tales


While work for Evans definitely earned him a position among immortals in the field of children 9. Mrs Molesworth: Cuckoo Clockliterature, this was by no means the only important collaboration with other highly creative minds of his time.

Among others we should mention Mrs. Molesworth, prolific author of books for girls, which bear no specific artistic value today, but were important part of education at the end of 19th century in England. Crane illustrated 16 books for her.

These books are now considered way too conservative (they were written to 'prepare girls for the role of wives'), but they helped to establish new standards in new society where a lot of changing very fast and large percentage of people simply lost the feeling of right and wrong.

While educational works by Mary Louisa Molesworth, masked in fiction, were not of similar quality like works of Dickens or Wilde, they reached their audience and had positive effect in general.

With years Crane's focus changed from art to education. He spent more and more time giving lectures on art, especially on design. He was also politically active, and he made hundreds of illustrations and caricatures for different magazines like this one on the right.

If you want to know more about his biography and see more examples of his art, here is another of my articles about him:

Hope you enjoyed my selection of top 10 works by Walter Crane:)


10. Walter Crane, a socialist

"Art should be accessible to everybody!"
walter crane socialist
Updated: 04/11/2015, Tolovaj
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What an art of Walter Crane means to you?

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Tolovaj 5 days ago

Yellow Books were inexpensive picture books offered at train stations at the beginning of the 20th century. They were very commercially oriented.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/14/2023

Your first image for your first fact constitutes quite an impressive image. All the woodland greenery makes me think in a way that the Lady of Shalott was fulfilling her natural destiny in some way (not a way that I'd want at such a young age and without living all the opportunities that life offers us).

Under the image you mention Walter Crane illustrating "yellow" books. What would those be?

Tolovaj on 07/28/2015

I agree with you, WriterArtist, old works posses special charm. I think we can all find our personal reasons why is that, but the fact is, great stuff never completely falls out of favor:) Walter Crane definitely belongs in this category!

WriterArtist on 07/25/2015

How different and artistic Walter Crane's art is from the modern art which I never had the patience to understand and appreciate - I love these colorful illustrations. Somehow; I find more beauty in the old paintings and story books. Don't we still enjoy Snow White and Cinderella. I have to say that I am mesmerized with old.

Tolovaj on 05/06/2015

Thanks, Mira, Walter Crane is not my favorite illustrator, but I admire his dedication and especially his philosophy which actually created whole new media - high quality picture books. While we'll always find products with some kind of short-cuts, there will always be publishers who''ll look at standard which were set by him.

Mira on 05/06/2015

I enjoyed this. I think I've seen his illustrations at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. Nice read!

Tolovaj on 04/12/2015

Thanks for your visit, burntchestnut. I learned a lot about history, geography and economy by reading old story books and exploring the stories from their backstage. It can be pretty amusing experience.

Tolovaj on 04/12/2015

The pleasure was all mine, Thamisgith:)

AngelaJohnson on 04/12/2015

His map of the British Empire is impressive! Some of his artwork you show seems familiar, so I'm sure I've seen it before but never knew who the artist was. I like to look through old books and now I'll pay attention to who drew the illustrations.

Thamisgith on 04/12/2015

Thanks for a very interesting read!

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