Walter Crane (1845-1915) was a well-known painter, book illustrator, and socialist. He was heavily influenced by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as his study of Japanese wood-block color printing. His decorative work and illustrations often featured garden themes, bold lines, and detailed imagery. Along with Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott, Crane was one of the premiere illustrators for children’s books in the nineteenth century. His trandemark style was also influential in the burgeoning Arts & Crafts movement in England.
Crane was introduced to fellow artist William Morris (1834-1896) in 1870, and the two later became close friends and collaborators. Crane’s illustrations most notably appear in the 1894 edition of The Story of the Glittering Plain printed by Morris’s Kelmscott Press.
Both Morris and Crane were ardent socialists. They joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first organized Marxist groups in England, in 1884. Frustrated by SDF leadership, Crane left the SDF to join Morris’s new organization, the Socialist League.
Like Morris, Crane believe that art should become a part of everyday life. For both men, art provided a meaningful and creative force in society, and it should be shared by all classes. Crane scowled at what he viewed as the commercialization and mass production of “false art” for profit. He used his own artistic talent to create illustrations that brought beauty to the Socialist cause. According to Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, the impact of Crane’s art was undeniable:
“Nobody, not even William Morris, did more to make Art a direct helpmate to the Socialist propaganda. Nobody has had a greater influence on the minds of doubters who feared that Socialism must be remote from and even destructive of the sense of beauty.”
Crane designed many of the header images that appeared on pamphlets for the Socialist League and Hammersmith Socialist Societ, each Socialist organizations started by William Morris. Crane also designed a membership card for the Socialist League. The card features Crane’s illustration of a blacksmith, which was purportedly modeled after William Morris. Do you think the bearded worker bears a resemblance to Morris?
Look for additional Crane illustrations in How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris exhibit now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library.