Kate Greenaway, RI (1846-1901) The characteristic charm of Kate Greenaway’s illustrations resides in a simplicity of both vision and visual style. A past time – the Regency – is represented through clear outline and flat wash as the embodiment of innocence; an eternal English spring is peopled, for the most part, by graceful youths engaged in gentle occupation.
Kate Greenaway was born in Hoxton, East London, on 17 March 1846. The urban background of her childhood gave her a longing for the countryside, a longing made more definite and painful by happy memories of family holidays in Nottinghamshire. She would transform these desires into the enchanted yet homely visual world that made her name.
The favourite daughter of a wood-engraver to The Illustrated London News, Greenaway studied at the Finsbury School of Art, the National Art Training School, South Kensington, and, in 1870-71, at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. In 1871, she enrolled at the Slade School of Art, and spent time in the life class of the director, Edward Poynter, there meeting Helen Allingham, who later became a close friend.
Greenaway’s earliest fairy illustrations were robust, painterly and even grotesque, so revealing the influence of her distant cousin, Richard Dadd. But the child portraits that she exhibited at the Royal Academy, from 1877, more clearly marked the direction of her developing career. In the same year, she began to work for the printer and publisher Edmund Evans, who recognised her original ability to emphasise the innocence of childhood through the use of a Regency setting. Her illustrated books and various designs – epitomised by The Kate Greenaway Almanack (which appeared between 1888 and 1897) – soon became enormously popular in both Britain and the United States. And, with Ruskin acting as champion and adviser, her fame and stature rapidly increased. She was elected to the membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) in 1889, and held three solo shows at the Fine Art Society (1891, 1893 and 1897). A fourth, memorial show was held at the gallery in the year following her death at Hampstead on 6 November 1901.
Her work is represented in the collections of the British Museum and the V&A; and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford) and Manchester Art Gallery.
Further reading: Rodney Engen, Kate Greenaway: A Biography, London: Macdonald, 1981; Rosemary Mitchell, ‘Greenaway, Catherine [Kate] (1846-1901)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 23, pages 549-553; Emma M Routh, ‘Greenaway, Kate (b Hoxton, London, 17 March 1846; d Hampstead, London, 6 Nov 1901), Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 13, page 615; M H Spielmann and G S Layard, Kate Greenaway, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1905