A Frog he would a-wooing go

Capital Collections (www.capitalcollections.org) provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience.  The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the acclaimed and widely celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886).

‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’, front cover

The book was first published in 1883 as part of a series of highly successful picture books illustrated by Caldecott for children. His success continued throughout the 19th century and by 1884, sales of Caldecott’s Nursery Rhymes, which by this point consisted of twelve books, reached 867,000 copies leading him to international acclaim. Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s book in the Victorian era. Caldecott is considered a leading figure in children’s literature with his work considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to consist of more images and less text.

‘”Pray, Mr. Frog, will you give us a song?”
Heigho, says Rowley!
“But let it be something that’s not very long.”
With a rowley-powley, gammon and spinach,
Heigho, says Anthony Rowley!’
from ‘A Frog he would a-wooing go’

This book tells the story of a Frog, with the help of his friend the Rat, as he attempts to gain the affection of a Mouse. His books such as the one presented in this exhibition, are praised for their sense of fluidity and repeated phrases, which creates a sense of movement from one page to the other, a style which appeals to children. Not only do Caldecott’s books have a bright, humorous and inviting nature, their brilliance lies in his ability to express subtle but profound meaning in stories dominated by image and only supplemented with text.

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. Although originally marketed at children, the images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Flora’s Feast by Walter Crane

Our new exhibition on Capital Collections is ‘Flora’s Feast’ by Walter Crane. It offers a digitised view of the book ‘Flora’s Feast: A Masquerade of Flowers’, first published in 1889. The artist, Walter Crane (1848-1915), was a versatile creator as well as a theorist of art and its relationship with society.

Illustrated title page for ‘Flora’s Feast’ by Walter Crane

The exhibition’s accompanying text aims to provide historical and artistic context for the separate illustrations. You can though, simply browse the delightful pictures and enjoy the online rendering of this charming Victorian children’s book.

It tells the story of Queen Flora summoning the annual procession of flowers in her garden through short rhymes and fanciful illustrations that depict the individual flowers masquerading as humans and playing at roles from human society. Following the lead of the Aesthetic movement, Crane placed an importance on the value of beauty in art. This is clearly a central consideration throughout ‘Flora’s Feast’, resulting in a pleasing aesthetic. He thoughtfully balances his compositions and incorporates elegant curved forms based on nature that bring to mind the Art Nouveau approach to design. His linguistic and visual puns add an unexpected humour that can be appreciated by readers of all ages.

The book also provides an insight not only into the artist, but also to the time period it was created in. The illustrations can act as an alternative source of evidence for the Victorian fascination with nature and botanical illustrations, which is notably demonstrated elsewhere by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. Furthermore, the child audience that informs every image, from the lighter colours to the imaginative interpretation of flower names, affirms the increasing importance of the idea of childhood at the time which is demonstrated by Crane’s development of the child-in-garden motif shown in the image of the Buttercups below.

‘Flora’s Feast’, the Buttercups

From an artistic perspective the reader can enjoy identifying the numerous sources of inspiration that Crane incorporated into his visual style; ranging from the figures reminiscent of Botticelli’s paintings to the Medievalism of the pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement. Overall the format, audience and artistic style of Crane’s creation come together to act as a subtle reminder to challenge fixed definitions of art, as well as preconceived notions of its inaccessibility and isolation from the external world.

Browse all the pages from this beautiful illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.