May 16, 2018, by Kathryn Steenson

Kate Greenaway’s Album

In 1879, Kate Greenaway’s first book ‘Under the Window’ was published to immediate commercial and critical success. Her drawings of cherubic children in smock-frocks and bonnets playing in sunny English gardens have continued to charm audiences for 140 years and she remains one of the most popular and influential children’s illustrators.

Illustration of a mother in regency dress and cap with her daughter on her lap

Invitation to an exhibition of water colours by Miss Kate Greenaway, 1898

Originally she began her career as an artist designing greetings cards but after the success of her first book, she devoted herself to illustrating, and sometimes writing, children’s books. She produced artwork for volumes of nursery rhymes, alphabets and spelling books, and painting books for children to colour, all in her trademark style. Greenaway’s illustrations were quaint and old-fashioned even for the late 19th century. Her children were dressed in Regency fashions from a century earlier and played in rural landscapes coloured in her distinct calming, slightly muted palette. It appealed to the Victorian’s sense of nostalgia and the relatively new romanticised concept of childhood as a time of carefree innocence, and was so popular that clothing manufacturers began producing children’s clothes in a similar style.

Children holding hands and garlands of flowers and dancing in a circle, edges of the page decorated with marigolds

Page proof containing illustration of dancing children for ‘Marigold Garden’ by Kate Greenaway

Born in London in 1846, Kate and her family were sent to stay with relatives Rolleston in Nottinghamshire whilst her father remained home in order to complete a commission without distraction. This is often cited as a happy time for Kate, who returned regularly as an adult for summer holidays after she had moved back to London. Then, as now, Rolleston is a small village surrounded by countryside, and is credited as inspiring her idyllic rural scenes.

Pencil sketch of an expressionless girl, cap and shoes not filled in

Original pencil sketch of a girl by Kate Greenaway

This album (Kate Greenaway Album, Special Collection Over.XX NC242.G7) of proofs and pencil sketches was donated to the University by her brother John after her death in remembrance of her fond memories. Some of the pages contain art from her books sent to her for approval prior to publication, but the truly unique and precious drawings are her pencil sketches. Some would later form the basis of illustrations in her books, but others seem to be drawing exercises in which she practiced hands, faces and clothing in details whilst leaving the rest a vague blurred outline.

Typewritten letter

Letter from John Greenaway, 1933

Kate Greenaway died in 1901. In 1955 CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) established the Kate Greenaway Medal which is awarded annually for distinguished illustration in a book for children.

Kate Greenaway’s album is currently on display in the exhibition From Rags to Witches: The grim tale of children’s stories at Lakeside Arts until 26 August. For more information about it, including opening hours and the programme of activities, visit our website. You can find out more about our collection, including our extensive collection of children’s literature, from here, or by reading our newsletter Discover, or following us @mssUniNott.

Posted in ExhibitionsFrom the collections