Collection MSG 1191 - Walter Crane Sketchbook Collection

1864 Sketchbook: Political Leanings 1905 Sketchbook 1901 Sketchbook: Ireland Travels 1897 Sketchbook: Bases of Design 1903 Sketchbook: Honorable Artillery Company 1864 Sketchbook: Animals and Watercoloured Landscapes

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Walter Crane Sketchbook Collection

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  • 1864-1905 (Creation)
    Crane, Walter, 1845-1915

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Physical description

6 bound sketchbooks
Note : Includes 228 sketches

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Walter Crane was born on August 15 1845 in Liverpool, Lancashire England. His parents Thomas Crane (1808–59) and Marie Crane (née Kearsley) fostered an interest in the visual and literary arts in their four children. His father was a miniaturist and portraitist artist whose evening sketchclub encouraged Crane to set pencil to paper. By the age of thirteen the Cranes had moved to London where Walter Crane was able to show his illustrated to the art critic John Ruskin and the master engraver W.J. Linton. Between 1858 and 1862 Crane apprenticed under Linton--gaining experience in designing illustration for the printing process

Initiating his claim to fame as an illustrator, in 1863 Crane met the printer and entrepreneur Edmund Evans (1826-1905). The collaboration between printer and artist began in 1864 with the coloured covers for cheap railway novels. Evans pioneering work in coloured printing led to the cover-to-cover picture books that made Walter Crane alongside Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott best known as a children’s book illustrators. Between 1865 and 1886 Crane illustrated at least 48 titles for the children’s book market, many of which were reissued within the period. Crane’s illustrations for fairy tales and nursery rhymes fused together a range of influences from Japanese printing techniques, Pre-raphaelite aesthetics, and the figures in political cartoons.

Crane became a politically-conscious artist and a committed socialist, much like his friend and colleague William Morris whom he had met for the first time in 1870. Crane joined Morris in the Socialist League in 1884, and contributed illustrations to the league’s newspaper, The Commonweal. “Workers of the World Unite” exemplifies one of Crane’s many mottos. His often didactic socialist messages appear in a range of periodicals which also included Justice and The Clarion. Many of these illustrations were reproduced with additional drawings in Cartoons for the Cause, 1886-1896.

The Arts and Crafts Movement provided Crane with an avenue to develop his ideas on the potential unity between design and artistic labour. He contributed wall-paper and textile designs for Morris and Co, and produced illustrations for the Kelmscott Press, as well as a full scale panel paintings and friezes. As a leading member of this movement, Crane was a founder and president of the Art Workers’ Guild, and in 1888 founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society

Crane had long sought out the power of aesthetics to teach the masses. Dedicated to teaching, Crane became art director as well as a teacher at the Manchester School of Art (1893–1896) and then of Reading College (1896–1898). He was principal of the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, London (1898–1899). During this later period Crane began to publish his teachings on such topics as the history of books, techniques of composition and design, and the socialist art of William Morris.

By the end of his prolific career Crane had contributed to range of artistic practices, namely: drawing, painting, book design, textile design,wallpaper panels, ceramics, and illustration. He had illustrated over a hundred fiction and non-fiction titles–several of which he also authored. His autobiographical recollections in An Artist’s Reminiscence, 1907, is one of his last major publications. The autobiography illustrates a cosmopolitanism that had been part of Crane’s life as an artist, craftsman, teacher, and socialist. Survived by three children, he died one year after his wife Mary Frances (née Andrews) on March 14, 1915, Horsham, Sussex.

Custodial history

The collection was transferred to McGill's Rare Books and Special Collections on May 2 1940.

Scope and content

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.

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Pages torn from binding

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  • English

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Records predominantly in English

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Crane's personal papers conserved at The University of Manchester John Rylands Library

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General note

Crane’s summer sketchbooks are divided between the early and later period in Crane’s artistic career. Two of the sketchbooks date to the summer and early fall of 1864 which he spend in countryside and villages of Derbyshire. These books correspond with period when Crane was in the initial stages of his collaboration with the printer Edmund Evans. Leaving a gap of several decades, the next sketchbook corresponds with Crane’s teaching career. During the summer of 1897 Crane chose to give up his posting in Manchester and remain at Reading College, London. In the summer of 1901 Crane took the time to see the countryside, cities, and towns in Ireland which he sketched. The 1903 and 1905 summer sketchbooks fill in informational gaps in Crane’s life otherwise documented in his autobiography which focuses on the 19th century.

Sources consulted

Crane, Walter. An Artist’s Reminiscences. London: Methuen & Co., 1907.

Engen, Rodney K. Walter Crane as a Book Illustrator. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975.

Harris, Rachel. “Picturing Fairyland: Illustrated Fairy Tale Books and the Rise of the Child Reader-Viewer in the Victorian Era.” Phd, Concordia University, 2017.

Massé, Gertrude C. E. A Bibliography of First Editions of Books Illustrated by Walter Crane. London: Chelsea Publishing Company, 1923.

O’Neill, Morna. Walter Crane: The Arts and Crafts, Painting, and Politics, 1875-1890. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

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Finding aid created by Rachel Harris, 2018.

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