Catherine (Kate) Greenaway was an English artist and children's book illustrator. She is best known for her distinctive images of children in simple clothes set in pastoral and garden landscapes. She was born in London, the second daughter of the engraver John Greenaway and Elizabeth Greenaway. When she was five her family moved to Islington, where her mother opened a successful shop selling children's clothing and trimmings. During the summers, Greenaway and her siblings lived with relatives in the country village of Rolleston in Nottinghamshire. A keen observer, she would draw on remembered details from her childhood in her art.
Greenaway began her artistic training at twelve, when she enrolled in the Finsbury School of Art, which trained its students for careers in commercial art. At nineteen, she began further design training at the Female School of Art in South Kensington and some years later she took life classes at the Slade School. In the late 1860s she began receiving commissions for magazine and book illustrations and designing greeting cards.
Greenaway's career reached a turning point in 1877 when her father introduced her to the printer Edmund Evans, who produced high-quality color wood engravings. Evans was already successfully engraving and printing books by Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott, two well-known children's book illustrators, and he printed Greenaway's first book, Under the Window, with the publisher George Routledge in 1879. The book combined Greenaway's illustrations of children with her own simple verse. It was a huge success and sold out almost immediately. Her subsequent books in the same vein continued to be successful, and several publishers produced books imitative of her style.
During these prolific years, Greenaway began to correspond with the art critic John Ruskin, who admired her images of children. She finally met him in the early 1880s. Ruskin, twenty-eight years Greenaway's senior and already experiencing bouts of mental illness, would have a lasting influence on the rest of Greenaway's life. She fell in love with him, although she was only one among several women with whom he had a flirtatious relationship. The two conducted a lengthy, complicated correspondence, and they visited each other sporadically. He offered artistic advice and encouraged
her to pursue nature studies and watercolor painting. Although he championed her work in a lecture and essay entitled "In Fairy Land," Greenaway's career suffered when she diverted her attention away from illustration. By the mid-1880s, Greenaway's books began to diminish in popularity. Focusing more on exhibiting and selling watercolor painting in the last decade of her life, she struggled to support herself. Countless products appeared with her designs (or were modelled after them), but most were produced without her permission. Greenaway died of breast cancer in 1901.
Greenaway's art nostalgically linked a pastoral landscape and the simplicity of eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century styles of clothing with an ideal of childhood sheltered from adult experience. At the same time, her work's simple, clean lines, decorative details, and her choice of colors corresponded to the progressive tastes of the Aesthetic movement of the later nineteenth century. This visual formula easily transferred to other media. Greenaway's style was successful in an expanding market for images of children that continued well into the twentieth century. Her images of children appeared on greeting cards, advertisements, porcelain figures, tiles, wallpaper, and fabrics, while the distinctive style of dress she pictured in her work influenced children's fashions in England and elsewhere. The well-known store Liberty of London, for example, carried its "Greenaway dress" into the early twentieth century. Although she herself did not benefit financially beyond the sales of her books and illustrations, Greenaway was one of the first women artists to achieve success in the growing childhood-related markets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Chester, Tessa Rose, and Joyce Irene Whalley. 1988. A History of Children's Book Illustration. London: John Murray/Victoria and Albert Museum.
Engen, Rodney. 1981. Kate Greenaway: A Biography. London: Macdonald Future Publishers.
Lundin, Anne H. 2001. Victorian Horizons: The Reception of the Picture Books of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway. Lanham, MD: Children's Literature Association/Scarecrow Press.
Schuster, Thomas E., and Rodney Engen. 1986. Printed Kate Greenaway: A Catalogue Raisonné. London: T. E. Schuster.
Spielman, M. H., and G. S. Layard. 1905. The Life and Work of Kate Greenaway. London: Adam Charles Black. Reprint, 1986, London: Bracken.
Taylor, Ina. 1991. The Art of Kate Greenaway: A Nostalgic Portrait of Childhood. Gretna, LA: Pelican.