Walter Crane (1845–1915) was an important figure in the Arts and Crafts movement and a highly influential illustrator of books. As a socialist (and something of a utopian idealist) he abhorred the methods of mass production that had taken root during the Victorian era, believing them to be responsible for distorting “man’s artistic abilities by motivating him to devote himself to material gain at the expense of beauty.” He believed the decorative arts could achieve equality in society by becoming an integral part of everyday life. In accordance with his ideals, he devoted much of his time to the design of household items, including textiles, pottery and stained glass. He also became a prominent figure of the Socialist movement, and between the 1880s and the First World War, he developed much of its iconography for use on posters, pamphlets, membership cards and trade union banners.
It is, however, for his illustration of children’s books that Walter Crane really left his mark. Like household items, he believed art in children’s books was essential as: “We all remember the little cuts that coloured the books of our childhood. The ineffaceable quality of these early pictorial and literary impressions affords the strongest plea for good art in the nursery and the schoolroom.” His colourful and detailed illustrations contributed to the development of picture books and his child in the garden motifs for nursery rhymes inspired many generations of illustrators that followed.
The book in the photographs, containing classic nursery rhymes, such as Three Blind Mice and Baa! Baa! Black Sheep is a first edition of The Baby’s Opera (1877), illustrated by Walter Crane and engraved and printed in colours by Edmund Evans. It was published by George Routledge and Sons and the rhymes were edited by Crane’s sister Lucy.
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