Greenaway illustrations are attracting collectors

November 17, 1991|By Copley News Service

The recent surge of collector interest in illustrated children's books has been accompanied in the last year or so by the publication of several studies of prominent artists in the field -- Arthur Rackham, Jessie Willcox Smith and Bessie Pease Gutman, to name a few.

These are now joined by one on Kate Greenaway, whose delicate, sunbonneted, Empire-waisted figures have made her a favorite of children for several generations and a symbol of the innocence of Victorian childhood pleasures.

Kate Greenaway came by her artistic talents naturally: Her father was a free-lance master engraver, her mother a popular designer of children's clothes, which she sold in her shop in London's Islington neighborhood.

Greenaway was born on March 17, 1846, in Hoxton, North London and was, not surprisingly, encouraged to draw from an early age. By the time she was 12, she was enrolled in evening classes at a nearby art school, soon switching to daytime sessions and staying on for six years, learning about creating patterns for ceramics, textiles and architectural ornaments as well as studying fine art.

At 19, she moved on to the Central School of Art in South Kensington. Her work was first exhibited in a gallery in 1868, including some line drawings that were published in People Magazine. Before long, she was receiving commissions to produce greeting cards.

By this time, Greenaway's style was set -- the warm palette of brick reds, soft oranges and yellows, pale blues and greens, outlined in black, the little girls in bonnets and high-waisted frocks or smock dresses, the boys in ruffled collars, surrounded by a profusion of carefully observed flowers and greenery.

Her first illustrated book, "Under the Window," was in the stores in time for Christmas 1879 and was an enormous success,making an instant celebrity of its author-artist and even eliciting a fan letter from London's leading art critic, John Ruskin. (It turned out later that he was more interested in her little girl models than in Greenaway's art).

This was quickly followed by "Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book for Children" -- rushed out for the next year's Christmas market -- and then by her version of "Mother Goose."

Other popular Greenaway books are "The Language of the Flowers," "Marigold Gardens," "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" and "Kate Greenaway's Book of Games."

The illustrated books, however, are by no means the only Kate Greenaway items popular with collectors. There are also Royal Doulton porcelains, figures produced by the Royal Worcester Porcelain Co. and lesser manufacturers, calendars, tiles, wallpaper, a bone china dolls' tea set made by Grimwade Ltd. of Stoke-on-Trent, dolls made of papier mache and china and paper dolls. One rarity much sought after is "Kate Greenaway's Carols," an illustrated card of her own verses.

"The Art of Kate Greenaway: A Nostalgic Portrait of Childhood," by Ina Taylor (Pelican Publishing Co.), is the first book to present an extensive color selection of the artist's work, with more than 100 beautifully reproduced color illustrations, and is rich in biographical detail.

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