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Highly Recommended. By Jenny Uglow. Art by Walter Crane. This volume in Thames & Hudson’s The Illustrators series showcases the work of Walter Crane, both in b&w and full color. He was one of the most influential children’s book creators of his generation. Beginning in the 1863, Crane transformed the illustration of children’s books with his bold outlines, jeweled colors, and vivid characters. He went on to illustrate dozens of adventure books, magazines, and he also painted as a Royal Academy artist. Crane was also a leading voice in the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements and a powerful advocate of women’s and worker’s rights. Thames & Hudson, 2019.

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This volume in Thames & Hudson’s The Illustrators series showcases the work of Walter Crane, both in b&w and full color. He was one of the most influential children’s book creators of his generation. Beginning in the 1863, Crane transformed the illustration of children’s books with his bold outlines, jeweled colors, and vivid characters. He went on to illustrate dozens of adventure books, magazines, and he also painted as a Royal Academy artist. Crane was also a leading voice in the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements and a powerful advocate of women’s and worker’s rights.

He remains best known for these wonderful “Toy Books,” comprising dozens of titles published from 1893 into the 1880s. Edmund Evans, the brilliant artisan who first perfected color printing when the world was still stuck in black & white, collaborated with Crane on these books and they were a phenomenon. They have mostly stayed in print right up to today, offering fairy tales and fantasy that still resonates with readers of all ages.

Along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, Crane pioneered motifs that would characterize children’s stories and illustration for decades. Craftsman and visionary at once, he created powerful images for the new socialism in the latter part of the nineteenth century. He was also a brilliant designer and his covers of early illustrated books are often iconic today.

Yet his style IS considered dated, being primarily couched in the last of the 1800s. So he has suffered neglect as newer, flashier artists like Rackham and Dulac came along and took children’s and fantasy art into the 20th century. However, I have always found his work endlessly fascinating and relevant–he was without a doubt one of the most successful, one of the most widely published, and one of the most highly respected artists of his time, roughly 1880-1910. His pioneering “Toy Books” of fairy tales were head and shoulders superior to almost everything done before then–they incorporated brilliant colors, bold full page art and fantastical characters on a scale never before attempted. And these books were reprinted for decades and may well still be in print today.

He illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Robin Hood, A Wonder Book, The Siren’s Three, Queen Summer, The First of May, Puss In Boots, King Athur’s Knights, the Lady of Shalott, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Happy Prince, The Frog Prince and much, much more. One of his most ambitious works was Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queen, published in a deluxe set of six volumes entirely illustrated by Crane, in 1895-97.

Distinguished biographer Jenny Uglow expertly narrates a fascinating study of how Crane’s art and politics developed from his childhood love of Pre-Raphaelite painting and the influence of the ideas of William Morris and other progressive thinkers of the time. This book is a brilliant record of an artist who blended styles and influences like no one before him.

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