Kate (Catherine) Greenaway was born in London in 1846 to a master wood engraver and a seamstress. Ironically, within days and months of her birth date, Randolph Caldecott and Walter Crane also came into this world. All three became world-famous illustrators of their time, and they all worked for Edmund Evans who printed their books.
At a young age Greenaway spent time with her great aunt on a farm and developed her love of the countryside. As England fought with India to control an uprising, Greenaway was inspired to draw. This desire led her to attend art school where she received an award. Realizing she had talent, she decided to devote her life to an art career. In 1868 she exhibited watercolor drawings at the Dudley Gallery. Also of interest to the public were her greeting cards. She designed and drew Christmas and birthday cards as well as Valentines and calendars. The charm of the young children and the landscapes captured people's attention.
Shortly thereafter, Greenaway began illustrating children's books before deciding to write her own book of poetry and to illustrate it herself. A poet named Frederick Locker-Lampson was hired by Evans the printer to edit Greenaway's verse. Locker-Lampson and Greenaway formed a lasting friendship as he introduced her to a higher society than she'd previously known. With her quaint and graceful style, Greenaway attracted more attention with her book Under the Window which sold out of the first printing quickly and required a second printing.
Flush with success, Greenaway continued writing and illustrating books such as Language of Flowers , The Birthday Book, and Mother Goose among others. With her photographic memory, Greenaway recreated in her books dresses she'd seen her mother make years earlier. A designer herself, Greenaway also saw her drawings lead Liberty's of London to produce a line of children's clothes directly from the illustrations in her books. Greenaway's popularity spread to the European continent and to America where copycats of her work popped up.
With fame came criticism. John Ruskin, a well-known art critic and Victorian essayist, began corresponding with Greenaway. His comments could be constructive or cutting. For better or worse, Greenaway took them to heart over the twenty years they knew each other. The one area Greenaway strayed from Ruskin's advice was over her art. Ruskin wanted her to stop writing books and focus more on oil paintings. However, Greenaway's constant source of income came from her children's books, so she continued anyway. In attempts to pacify Ruskin, Greenaway kept at painting and exhibited her work.
Greenaway's childlike views enabled her to draw the happy, beautiful side of life. Her drawings and accompanying verse demonstrated an ideal Victorian childhood in England. Greenaway defended herself for consistently portraying positivity. Given her popularity then and in future generations, many people appreciated her cheerfulness and tenderness in designs.
Her life ended in sadness, however, as her parents and Ruskin died, and she discovered she had breast cancer. Her death came in 1901. In appreciation for her influence, The Library Association of Great Britain began awarding the "Kate Greenaway Medal" each year to the most distinguished British children's book artist. A coveted award, like America's Caldecott Award, it is the highest honor for an English illustrator.
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