Kate Greenaway - Encyclopedia

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KATE GREENAWAY (1846-1901), English artist and book illustrator, was the daughter of John Greenaway, a well-known draughtsman and engraver on wood, and was born in London on the 17th of March 1846. After a course of study at South Kensington, at "Heatherley's" life classes, and at the Slade School, Kate Greenaway began, in 1868, to exhibit water-colour drawings at the Dudley Gallery, London. Her more remarkable early work, however, consisted of Christmas cards, which, by reason of their quaint beauty of design and charm of draughtsmanship, enjoyed an extraordinary vogue. Her subjects were, in the main, young girls, children, flowers, and landscape; and the air of artless simplicity, freshness, humour, and purity of these little works so appealed to public and artists alike that the enthusiastic welcome habitually accorded to them is to be attributed to something more than love of novelty. In the line she had struck out Kate Greenaway was encouraged by H. Stacy Marks, R.A., and she refused to listen to those friends who urged her to return to a more conventional manner. Thenceforward her illustrations for children (such as for Little Folks, 1873, et seq.) attracted much attention. In 1877 her drawings at the Dudley Gallery were sold for X54, and her Royal Academy picture for eighteen guineas; and in the same year she began to draw for the Illustrated London News. In the year 1879 she produced Under the Window, of which 150,000 copies are said to have been sold, and of which French and German editions were also issued. Then followed The Birthday Book, Mother Goose, Little Ann, and other books for children which were appreciated not less by adults, and were to be found on sale in the bookshops of every capital in Europe and in the cities of America. The extraordinary success achieved by the young girl may be estimated by the amounts paid to her as her share of the profits: for Under the Window she received £1130; for The Birthday Book, £1250; for Mother Goose, £905; and for Little Ann, 567. These four books alone produced a clear return of £8000. "Toy-books" though they were, these little works created a revolution in illustration, and so were of real importance; they were loudly applauded by John Ruskin (Art of England and Fors Clavigera), by Ernest Chesneau and Arsene Alexandre in France, by Dr Muther in Germany, and by leading art-critics throughout the world. In 1890 Kate Greenaway was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and in 1891, 1894 and 1898 she exhibited water-colour drawings, including illustrations for her books, at the gallery of the Fine Art Society (by which a representative selection was exhibited in 1902) ,where they surprised the world by the infinite delicacy,tenderness, and grace which they displayed. A leading feature in Miss Greenaway's work was her revival of the delightfully quaint costume of the beginning of the 19th century; this lent humour to her fancy, and so captivated the public taste that it has been said, with poetic exaggeration, that "Kate Greenaway dressed the children of two continents." Her drawings of children have been compared with Stothard's for grace and with Reynolds's for naturalness, and those of flowers with the work of van Huysum and Botticelli. From 1883 to 1897, with a break only in 1896, she issued a series of Kate Greenaway's Almanacs. Although she illustrated The Pied Piper of Hamelin and other works, the artist preferred to provide her own text; the numerous verses which were found among her papers after her death prove that she might have added to her reputation with her pen. She had great charm of character, but was extremely shy of public notice, and not less modest in private life. Shedied at Hampstead on the 6th of November 1901.

See the Life, by M. H. Spielmann and G. S. Layard (1905).

(M. H. S.)

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