Our latest exhibition on Capital Collections, In the Garden: Walter Crane’s children’s books, was created by Elizabeth Stevens an Art History postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. Elizabeth completed the online exhibition as part of her internship programme between the University and Central Library. The internship programme allows students to gain practical experience outside the typical academic setting and spend time researching an aspect of the Library’s Special Collections.
Elizabeth was drawn to the Library’s children’s illustrated books collection and in particular the work of Walter Crane (1848-1915). Crane was a draughtsman, illustrator, designer and socialist. In his time, he was regarded as one of the best illustrators of children’s books in Britain. Crane’s books include retellings of classics like Aesop’s Fables as well as his own stories, making for a diverse catalogue that sold extremely well to people of all classes.
Crane’s artistic style was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Aestheticism. Alongside these artistic influences, Crane was also an enthusiastic socialist, influenced by his close friend William Morris. The exhibition allows people to see a period of transformation, both within art and within society.
The image of the ‘Child in the Garden,’ while not the most innovative in style, illustrates an important aspect of Crane’s work. The child is in a natural setting, surrounded by nature, animals and a book which illustrates the changes in attitudes towards children in Victorian Britain. Judging by a large number of laws passed during the time, childhood was beginning to be something that was protected.
It is even possible to see a practical example of this change happening in Edinburgh around the same time in our Life History of a Slum Child exhibition also on Capital Collections, where pictures show children being taught in the open air.