The English illustrator Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) dramatically changed the art of the picture book. For many modern critics, her work represents the essence of a Victorian childhood.
For over a hundred years, Kate Greenaway's works have been honored as representing the essence of illustrations for children. Her relatively simple line drawings and colored pictures of young boys and girls at play influenced generations of writers and illustrators for children. Her seminal role in creating the form of the modern child's picture book was recognized in 1955, when the Library Association of Great Britain established the Kate Greenaway Medal. The award is given annually to the British artist who has produced the most distinguished illustrations in works of literature for children.
Kate Greenaway's romantic conception of childhood was based in part on her own experiences. She was born on March 17, 1846, in Hoxton, a community in what is now Greater London, England. "She was the second daughter of John Greenaway, a draughtsman and engraver, " writes Bryan Holme in The Kate Greenaway Book, "and of Elizabeth Greenaway, a Miss Jones before the marriage." "I had such a very happy time when I was a child, " Greenaway is reported as saying in M. H. Spielmann and G. S. Lanyard's 1905 biography Kate Greenaway, "and, curiously, was so very much happier then than my brother and sister, with exactly the same surroundings. I suppose my imaginary life made me one long continuous joy-filled everything with a strange wonder and beauty. Living in that childish wonder is a most beautiful feeling-I can so well remember it. There was always something more-behind and beyond everything-to me. The golden spectacles were very very big."
Her earliest artistic desires found their expression in drawing and in dressing up her dolls. "A strong bond existed between father and daughter, " Holme reports. "He had nicknamed her 'Knocker' because when she cried her face used to look like one-or so he had teasingly told her. As soon as Kate's fingers had strength enough to hold pencil, John Greenaway had encouraged her to draw-and this he continued to do up to and through her student years." Some of these pictures were of contemporary events, including the Great Indian War in 1857, in which many English women and children were killed. "At the time of the Indian Mutiny I was always drawing people escaping, " Greenaway revealed in Kate Greenaway. "I could sit and think of the sepoys till I could be wild with terror, and I used sometimes to dream of them. But I was always drawing the ladies, nurses, and children escaping. Mine always escaped and were never taken." Other inspirations for her art work were the family vacations taken in rural Rolleston, Nottinghamshire. "Here Greenaway was touched by the commonplace sights of old-fashioned England, " states Lundin: "villagers in their antiquated eighteenth-century dress; men working in the fields in embroidered smocks dyed blue; women wearing their Sunday best of frilly lace and large poke bonnets; and roads edged with primroses or fields filled with poppies."
A Career as an Illustrator and Designer
Greenaway's doll-dressing talents may have had their origins in Elizabeth Greenaway's occupation. "Her mother was a seamstress and milliner, who opened a shop in Islington when her husband's business waned, " explains Anne H. Lundin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Certainly Kate Greenaway's taste for 'dressing up' found its major expression at the drawing, [but] … in her childhood it had through her love of dolls, " states Holme. Even after she had been sent to school at what would become the Royal Academy of Art in 1858, and after she had won local and national awards for her work in 1861 and 1864, she continued to work with dolls and fabric. In 1868, at the age of 22, she had an exhibition of her watercolors at the Dudley Gallery in Piccadilly. She created these pictures by first making the clothing, then dressing model in the clothes. The significance of the pictures in terms of her career, however, was that they "caught the eye of an editor and led to a commission for illustrations for People's magazine and later for Christmas cards and valentines for Marcus Ward, " declares Lundin. "In 1870 she received a commission to illustrate an edition of Madame D'Aulney's Fairy Tales. She also began contributing to Little Folks, the Illustrated London News, and Cassell's magazine, and she exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy in 1877."
Greenaway's largest influence on her art work at this time came from the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was formed in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. "This trio of artists, " writes Holme, "protested the ravages of modern industry, but their plea for a return to simplicity, sincerity, and respect for nature had no bearing beyond the immediate world of British art. Yet in that world, within a decade, they became gods." Many of her early cards and valentines, such as those that appeared in The Quiver of Love: A Collection of Valentines (1876) show the Pre-Raphaelite influence on her work. John Ruskin, the first British art critic to recognize the contributions of the Pre-Raphaelites, later became a close friend of Greenaway. Their correspondence continued until the critic's death in 1900.
Much of Greenaway's earliest work appeared in the publications of Marcus Ward & Company, which published her art work on their cards, calendars, and books. "Over the years, " writes Holme, "hitherto unknown books containing one or more Greenaway illustrations have turned up in the rare-book market." Her "earliest free-lance work also included odd jobs for Messrs. Kronheim and Company, the giant color printers of Shoe Lane, " the critic continues. The Kronheim connection led to the publication of her first illustrated book: Diamonds and Toads (1871). "This slim paper-bound volume, a popular little tale pointing to the moral that 'cross words are as bad dropped from the mouth as toads and vipers, while gentle words are better than roses and diamonds' was printed by Kronheim, " Holme concludes, "and destined to number in Aunt Louisa's London Toy Book Series under the imprint of Frederick Warne and Company." Other books featuring Greenaway illustrations published in the early 1870s included The Children of the Parsonage, Fairy Gifts; or, A Wallet of Wonders, and Topo.
Under the Window and Other Works
The artist's aspirations, however, went beyond simply illustrating books written by other people. "Greenaway's ambition was to publish a book of her own verses and drawings based on her memories of Rolleston, street rhymes, and favorite childhood stories, " explains Lundin. "She dressed her characters in the old-fashioned clothing so common in Rolleston: high-waisted gowns, smocks, and mobcaps. She accompanied these drawings with her own verse, based on nursery-rhyme morals and make-believe." Her father, John Greenaway, shared the unfinished manuscript with a colleague named Edmund Evans. Evans was "a pioneer color printer who had already created successful productions of Walter Crane's toy books and had recently engaged Randolph Caldecott for a similar series, " states Lundin. The volume that Evans published became the first and most popular of Greenaway's books, Under the Window: Pictures and Rhymes for Children. Evans's original printing of 20, 000 copies quickly sold out and Evans had to print another 50, 000 to satisfy the demand for the book. One-third of the profits went to Greenaway. The sales made her comfortably well-off, if not wealthy, and her name became familiar in households throughout the British Empire and the United States. "Throughout the 1890s Under the Window was listed as a perennial seller, " says Lundin, "along with Greenaway's three other most popular works: Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book for Children (1880), Mother Goose; or, The Old Nursery Rhymes (1881), and A Painting Book (1884)."
These four books marked the pinnacle of Greenaway's critical and commercial success. However, her reputation was further spread by a series of yearly almanacs, published first by Routledge and later by Dent. "The almanacs were booklets with variant bindings that contained monthly calendars and in which the surprise from year to year was in Greenaway's choice of decorations for the seasons, " writes Lundin. Their sales were more erratic than those of Greenaway's major books-except in the United States, Lundin says, where "the almanacs had a greater following … with sales often twice that of the British market." The Almanack for 1883, the best-selling of her collection, sold 90, 000 copies throughout Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany. The almanacs appeared yearly from 1882 to 1895; the publisher skipped 1896, and the last of Greenaway's almanacs was published in 1897.
These almanacs and Greenaway's other publications brought out a "Greenaway Vogue" that began shortly after the publication of Under the Window and continued for some time. "Numerous imitations, piracies, and spinoffs were produced without her permission, an onslaught that popularized her name by adversely affected her livelihood and stature, " says Lundin. Even clothing styled after the patterns she had developed in her illustrations was created. At one point Greenaway was approached by a shoe manufacturer who wanted to market a "Kate Greenaway shoe." Greenaway herself told another anecdote about an acquaintance who had been exposed to the vogue: "The lady who has just left me, has been staying in the country and has been to see her cousins. I asked if they were growing up as pretty as they promised. 'Yes, ' she replied, 'but they spoil their good looks, you know, by dressing in that absurd Kate Greenaway style'-quite forgetting that she was talking to me!"
Although Greenaway maintained her reputation throughout the late nineteenth century, by the dawn of the twentieth century her popularity began to wane. Despite the loss of her parents and her friend John Ruskin, she never lost the dedication that characterized her earliest work. However, by early 1901 Greenaway was complaining of chronic pain, which was diagnosed as "acute muscular rheumatism, " but which modern critics believe was actually breast cancer. She died on November 6, 1901, and was buried in her family's plot at Hampstead cemetery. "Her work, " concludes Lundin, "remains a part of folk culture as well as a landmark in the history of children's bookmaking."
Further Reading on Kate Greenaway
Arbuthnot, May Hill, and Zena Sutherland, Children and Books, 4th edition, Scott, Foresman, 1972.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 141: British Children's Writers, 1880-1914, Gale Research, 1994.
Ernest, Edward, and Patricia Tracy Lowe, editors, The Kate Greenaway Treasury: An Anthology of the Illustrations and Writings of Kate Greenaway, World Publishing, 1967.
Holme, Bryan, The Kate Greenaway Book, Viking Press, 1976.
Meigs, Cornelia Lynde, et. al., editors, A Critical History of Children's Literature, Macmillan, 1953.
Moore, Anne Carroll, A Century of Kate Greenaway, Warne, 1946.
Spielmann, Marion Harry, and George Somes Layard, Kate Greenaway, A. & C. Black, 1905.
Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Gale Research, 1976. M