The collection consists of six of Walter Crane’s sketchbooks. Two of the sketchbooks date to the summer of 1864, and the remaining four date to the summers of 1897, 1901, 1903, and 1905. The collection’s dates offer a contrast between Crane’s early and later career as an artist. The contents feature his preliminary designs, pictorial observations of the world, and textual notes.
Crane’s sketchbooks are filled with landscapes and towns and building interiors and exteriors from Crane’s life in England and travels to Ireland. Aligned with Crane’s commissioned and published works, the sketchbooks include sketches for his book designs, a heraldic eagle, and plans for a panel painting or frieze. Flora, fauna, men, women, children, Greco-Roman figures and architectural details make up the wide range of subjects covered in the sketchbooks.
The drawings range from Crane’s rough ideas expressed in his preliminary sketches and line drawings to tonal drawings and studies of individuals, landscapes, and flowers. The drawing techniques play with perspective, topography, bodily gesture, facial expression, tone, line, outline, form, and colour.
Crane’s notations appear throughout the sketchbooks, including on the sketches themselves and on their facing pages. He also hand-wrote inspirational excerpts from poems and essays which includes quotes from Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin works.
Between blank and torn pages, the medium for the textual and visual content shifts between pen and pencil on paper. Several landscapes are full-page watercolours on paper.