Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) was a British designer, artist and writer. He was the son of portrait painter Thomas Crane and was born in Liverpool. He designed textiles, stained glass, wallpaper, and ceramics as a strong proponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He also got involved in politics, both in the art world and in social reform. He was the founding President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, whose goal was to raise the reputation of the decorative arts, and he used his talents to promote socialism by creating cartoons, banners, and posters. Crane travelled extensively throughout Europe and North America, spreading the Arts and Crafts message. His work was praised all around the world, and his works were translated into a number of European languages.
Between 1859 and 1862, he worked as an apprentice with London woodcarver William J. Linton.
By 1863, he had started a long partnership with Edmund Evans, a publisher and printer (1826-1906). He began designing books in the 1860s.
In the 1870s, Japanese sculpture Edward Burne-Jones, Botticelli, and William Blake inspired him.
The Baby’s Opera: A Book of Old Rhymes with New Dresses (1877), for example, sold over 40,000 copies. His books were available in the United States in both original and pirated copies.
The drawings in The Baby’s Own Aesop were transferred to transfer-printed tiles by the American Encaustic Tiling Company in Zanesville, Ohio (1887). Helen Metcalf based her sketches for Jack and the Beanstalk on his 1865—66 illustrations (1874).
Crane designed tiles for Maw, vases for Wedgwood, wallpapers for Jeffrey starting in 1874, a tapestry for Morris and Company in the 1880s, textiles for Wardle, carpets for Templeton’s of Glasgow, and embroideries for the Royal School of Art Needlework. On the decoration of collector Alexander A. Ionides’ house in London, he worked with William Morris and Thomas Jeckyll. He resurrected the practice of decorative plasterwork in the early 1870s. In 1884, he joined the Art-Workers’ Guild as a founding member and served as master from 1888 to 1889. From its founding in 1888 until 1912 (excluding 1891—96), he was a founding member and president of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.
During his visit to the United States in 1891—92, he produced stained glass for Catharine Lorillard Wolfe’s house in Newport, Rhode Island, and a church in Newark, New Jersey. He painted murals for the Women’s Christian Temperance Building in Chicago and illustrated two books for Houghton, Mifflin, Boston.
Crane worked as the director of architecture at Manchester School of Art in the 1890s and briefly taught art at Reading College. In the 1890s, he published several decorative arts books. He designed stained glass, tiles and ceramics, wallpapers, embroideries, textiles, mosaics, and decorative plasterwork. Still, his greatest achievement was in the graphic arts. When he was appointed principal of the Royal College of Art in London in 1898, he was already well-known in Europe.
His late work was on show at Siegfried Bing’s L’Art Nouveau shop in Paris in 1895. He designed the 1898 cover for the Vienna Secession’s examination Jugend as an honorary member. Crane’s style foreshadowed continental Art Nouveau. He later became a critic, and his books and drawings helped popularize the Arts and Crafts movement.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The Design Encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Brockington, G. (n.d.). Rhyming Pictures: Walter Crane and the Art of Reading. The British Academy. https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/documents/610/17-brockington.pdf.
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