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Walter Crane

Among the more interesting of the late 19th century book illustrators, Walter Crane was also an intellectual of some repute whose involvement with other notable figures and artistic movements of the era would lead him to express some distinct political leanings.

The second son of Thomas Crane, a well known and respected portrait and miniatures painter, born on 15th August 1845, Walter Crane was well placed to take up a leaning to the arts, and is these days considered among the most influential of book illustrators of the age. In the work of Walter Crane can be seen early elements of nursery rhyme illustration that pervades to this day. His work was not limited to children's illustrations, however, as he is also known for paintings and tiles, and a range of decorative arts.

A Liverpool upbringing led to his early involvement as part of the burgeoning Arts and Crafts movement, a doctrine that would influence the important Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that sought to change the face of the British art movement in the late 19th century.

Cranes interest in modern art of the day led to his becoming a follower of this movement, and he was subsequently to be a student of the famed artist, and renowned critic, John Ruskin.

It would be a set of plates illustrating Tennyson's famous Lady of Shalott that first led to his recognition, and he worked under the famous wood engraver, one William Linton, for three years.

It was during this time that he first came into contact with the Pre Raphaelites, as he was asked to engrave work by the founder members Dante Rossetti and John Millais, among many other eminent artists of the day.

A love of a wide range of art had seen Crane become acquainted with a work that was to influence his style - the legendary Elgin Marbles displayed in the British Museum in London - and also to develop a deep understanding and regard for Japanese art, influences of which can clearly be seen in his illustrations later in his career.

His career as both an illustrator and an artist went from strength to strength, including having one of his works exhibited in the Royal Academy. It would, however, be his illustrations of children's books that took him to new heights, and also led him to meet the influential designer William Morris.

In the early 1880's, under the influence of Morris, Crane became involved in the growing Socialist movement, and like Morris became interested in bringing art to the masses, including the design of many wallpaper, an area for which Morris was to become far more famous, and still is to this day.

Interesting at this point in his life is that Crane drew cartoons for a number of Socialist publications, his art helping to favour the cause.

Further work on textiles and wall coverings followed, and he also wrote, and illustrated, a number of books of poetry that added to his portfolio of talent.

Walter Crane gave much of his time to the purpose of the Art Workers Guild, and to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, a group he founded in 1888.

It is notable that Crane made a number of forays to America, primarily top speak up for a group of eight anarchists who were accused of murder following what became known as the Haymarket bombings - an early terrorist action.

As his stature grew and his work branched out into the area of tiles and glass, as well as some now very much sought after pottery, Crane became directly involved in many artistic societies, including the Water Colour Society. He subsequently became an examiner for the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert, in London), a director of design at a Manchester art school, an art director at Reading College and even for a short period a principal at the Royal College of Art and a regular on the art lecturing tour.

Walter Crane had lived a rich and varied life when he died on 14th March, 1915, and his work remains in its many forms for us to remember this remarkable and important artist and political figure.