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Kate Greenaway’s innocent world of childhood

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

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This edited article about Kate Greenaway originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 270 published on 18 March 1967.

Kate Greenaway, picture, image, illustration

Greetings card by Kate Greenaway

“What are you doing up so early?” the man asked as a small girl tiptoed into the kitchen.

Outside it was still dark and foggy and he was exhausted after working through the night on an etching for a London newspaper.

“I went to bed with my clothes on so I could cook you a breakfast,” replied little Kate Greenaway. As she prepared the meal, she asked her father about the work he had been doing. Someday she hoped to be an artist like him and these early morning breakfasts with her father – just the two of them together – were the highlights of her childhood.

When she grew older Kate Greenaway, who was born in London on 17th March, 1846, did become a professional artist. She designed Valentine and Christmas cards. She tried to write verses for them too, but her employer bluntly told her that these were “rubbish and without any poetic feeling.”

This harsh criticism did not deter Kate. She was confident she could draw and write and in her spare time she produced a book of children’s poems.

The publisher who saw it was delighted. Until then children’s books had been very crude, but Kate brought real art into her work and this was proved by the fact her pictures were later hung in the Royal Academy.

The book sold faster than the presses could print it. Kate’s pictures of children in it enchanted adults as much as the young readers. Kate used real children to base her pictures on, while the backgrounds were built on experiences from her own happy childhood.

After this success in 1879 Kate was able to give up the Christmas cards and concentrate on more book illustration. These books caused a revolution in publishing for children and many other artists tried to copy Kate’s style. They never quite succeeded and the Kate Greenaway books became so popular round the world that Victorian fashions in children’s clothes were based on them. Generations of little girls wore “Kate Greenaway frocks,” even in Japan where the books were translated.

All through her busy life Kate continued to capture the happiness of children in her delicate drawings. She died on 6th November, 1901, but since then her work has been reissued and still continues to give pleasure.

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