Walter Crane

Home / Museum / Search ARC Museum

Walter Crane

English Symbolist, , Golden Age Illustrator painter, illustrator, designer and tapestry designer

Born 8/15/1845 - Died 3/14/1915

  • Artworks
  • Biography
  • Relationships
  • Images of the Artist
  • Products

Mode

WALTER CRANE was born at Maryland Street, Liverpool on 15 August 1845. He was the third son of Thomas Crane, a portrait painter, and his wife Marie. Three months later the family moved South, settling in Torquay, where it was hoped the milder climate would be beneficial to the father's precarious health. Young Walter seems to have had a happy childhood in Torquay, apart from his school life. His parents withdrew him due to the effect attendance was having on his nerves. After this he was educated at home, mainly in his father's studio. The family moved to London in 1857, and in 1859 young Walter was apprenticed to an engraver W.J. Linton, a former Chartist, and a vigorous protagonist of the rights of ordinary people. Linton introduced him to J.R. Wise, another radical, whose book on The New Forest he illustrated. He stayed with Wise for six weeks carrying out this work, and yet again was influenced by an older man with progressive political views. He also started to read intensively, including works by Shelley, John Stuart Mill, and Ruskin, who influenced not only his politics but his attitude to crafts and the manufacture and design of goods.

In 1859 Thomas Crane died suddenly, and it became necessary for Walter to help finance the family. In 1862 his picture The Lady of Shalott was hung at the Royal Academy. In 1865 he met Edmund Evans a pioneer of colour engraving who was planning to produce a whole series of children's books. He illustrated thirty seven of these books, helping to make a fortune for Evans, and establishing himself as an artist and illustrator. This success in the illustration of children's books proved to be a mixed blessing, as Walter Crane became known as The Academician of the Nursery, a title the ambitious artist thoroughly disliked. In 1871 he married Mary Frances Andrews (1846-1914), the daughter of a country gentleman, and, I think one can safely assume an impecunious country gentleman, or the marriage with a young artist would have been unlikely to be welcomed. The young couple spent the next eighteen months in Italy. Ultimately they had three children, Beatrice born in 1873, Lionel born in 1876, and Lancelot born in 1880.

The growing family set up residence in Shepherds Bush, where Crane met George Howard, ninth Earl of Carlisle (Howard 1847-1911 was a proficient painter in watercolours, a leading patron of modern artists, and a friend of Edward Burne-Jones). Walter Crane did not persist in exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and for the next few years exhibited at the Dudley and Grosvenor galleries. His work attracted little notice, critical attention, or acclaim. He became a versatile decorative artist, designing tapestries, wallpaper, stained glass, and ceramics. Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896, President of the Royal Academy 1878-1896) was one of his patrons.

In 1870 the artist met William Morris (1833-1896, socialist, artist, poet, and craftsman), and in the early 1880s they became close friends and associates, further increasing his commitment to the socialist cause. Walter Crane became the semi-official artist to the whole developing labour movement, and his posters, and their iconography helped to shape the public perception of that movement. In 1884 he joined he Social Democratic Federation, and in 1885 the Fabian Society. This brought him into contact with George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), and Emmeline Pankhurst (1857-1928, leader of the campaign for women's voting rights, and from 1905 head of the Women's Social and Political Union). He was also a friend of George Frederick Watts (1817-1904, artist and sculptor), who shared his political views. It is worthy of mention at this point that many leading artists of the period agreed with the views held by Crane. It was obvious to any intelligent person that the conditions of the urban poor were a national disgrace. Where he differed from his colleagues, with the exception of Morris, was that he was prepared to state his views in public, and was committed to achieving change for the better.

It would be a mistake to regard Walter Crane as an earnest ascetic socialist - there was room in his life for other activities, and he and his wife were socialites as well as socialists. They loved to give large parties, and the artist usually wore the velvet jackets and flowing silk ties associated with the Aesthetic Movement. Mary Crane, initially timid and self-effacing became plump and slightly outrageous in her dress, and liked to drive herself around the area in a pony cart. Such independence from a married woman was unusual at that time. Their home in Holland Street, Kensington, a locality favoured by successful artists, became the centre of a social circle. In 1891-1892 a major retrospective of Walter Crane's work was held, and went on tour throughout the United States. Many people nowadays do not appreciate the international dimension of art promotion in the late nineteenth century. In 1893-1896 the exhibition toured Europe where it was highly successful, particularly in Germany, where his work was in tune with the German symbolism. Many of the pictures were sold at good prices, and some remain in German public collections to this day. In 1900 the exhibition reached Budapest, where it was shown with great success, and the artist and his wife were received with acclaim. Crane was in charge of the British contribution to the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Turin, and was the recipient of an honour from King Victor Emmanuel. The British contribution to the Turin exhibition was, however, widely criticized at home.

Walter Crane was less successful in his academic career. He was appointed Director of Design at the Manchester School of Art in 1893, but resigned in 1896 when his work was the subject of adverse comment, being regarded as insufficiently vocational. His appointment as Principal of the Royal College of Art was of only one year's duration, and was not regarded as a success. He was a poor lecturer. In 1900 he resigned as a member of the Fabian Society following its decision not to condemn the Boer War. In the following year his autobiography An Artist's Reminiscences was published. Despite all his wide-ranging activities much of his work was of considerable merit, his delicate watercolour landscapes are beautiful, his decorative work accomplished, and his political posters for the Independent Labour Party highly effective.

On 18 December 1914 the body of Mary Crane was found beside a railway line in Kent. Walter Crane died suddenly in Horsham Hospital on 14 March 1915. His friends felt that he was so devastated by the loss of his wife that he failed to summon the will to live.

I thought that I would leave the last comment to George Bernard Shaw, who said in his Appreciation of Walter Crane in 1937:

Walter Crane was a pleasant soul without a trace of the quarrelsomeness which did so much harm to the labour movement. Quarrelsome as Labour leaders are, they are angels compared to artists, who are apt to get into little cliques hating each other. I never saw a trace of this in Crane.


A full and eventful life, well-lived.

Source:
Our thanks go to Paul Ripley for the kind permission to reprint this article from his website, Victorian Art in Britain.

Personal

apprentice of

friend of

patronized by

Institutional

master at

  • Art Workers Guild

member of

  • Art Workers Guild
  • Fabian Society from 1885
  • Social Democratic Federation from 1884