Walter Crane was a painter, illustrator, designer, writer and teacher. He was the son of the portrait painter and miniaturist Thomas Crane (1808–59). His sister Lucy Crane was also an artist and lecturer on art. In 1871 he married Mary Frances Andrews.
From 1859 to 1862 Crane was apprenticed to the engraver William James Linton. During the mid-1860s he began illustrating children's books which were printed in colour by Edmund Evans, e.g. One, Two, Buckle my Shoe (1869). Crane's interests were closely related to those of the Aesthetic Movement and from around 1870 onwards his designs show the joint influence of Japanese prints in terms of the flat colour and asymmetrical composition, and of classical sculpture in the figures and draperies.
Crane collaborated with William Morris at the Kelmscott Press on wood-engravings for publications including Morris's The Story of the Glittering Plain (1894). He was also involved in decorative design, creating wallpapers for Jeffrey and Co. from 1875, pottery for Maw and Co., Pilkington and Wedgwood, and being involved with textile and mural design. Like Morris, he was also greatly influenced by the writings of John Ruskin concerning beauty and utility in works of art and concerning the dignity of the craftsman. He was concerned about the condition of art education and manufacture.
As a painter, Crane exhibited at the Royal Academy, Dudley Art Gallery, Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery, Old Water Colour Society and New Water Colour Society. His early works show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and particularly Edward Burne-Jones. His later landscapes inspired by the Italian countryside are comparable to those of Frederic Leighton and Giovanni Costa in their use of simplified colour and form. Love's Sanctuary (1870; exh. Old Bond Street Gallery) shows the influence of Simeon Solomon in its pagan references and young effete male celebrant.
Crane was on friendly terms with JW and he and his wife were included in a list written by JW around the mid 1870s which may have been a guest list for the private view of JW's Pall Mall exhibition of 1874, or a subscription list for JW's Venice etchings as proposed in 1876 (#12714).
Crane was responsible for designing the decor and costumes for Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience (1881) which satirised the affectations of aestheticism. Both JW and Crane were parodied in the character of Bunthorne.
In 1886 Crane campaigned with William Holman Hunt and George Clausen for the foundation of a National Art Exhibition in opposition to the Royal Academy, a project with which Whistler refused to become involved. From 1888-1889 Crane was Master of the Art Workers' Guild. He acted as Director of the Manchester School of Art from 1893 until 1896 and was appointed Principal of the Royal College of Art in 1898. He was a member of The Arts Club from 1903 until 1914.
Crane, Walter, The Claims of Decorative Art, London, 1892; Crane, Walter, Of the Decorative Illustration of Books, London, 1896; Crane, Walter, Line and Form, London, 1900; Crane, Walter, An Artist's Reminiscences, London, 1907.
Konody, P. G., The Art of Walter Crane, London, 1902; Schleinitz, O. von, Walter Crane, Bielefeld, 1902; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Massé, G. C. E., Bibliography of First Editions of Books Illustrated by Walter Crane, London, 1923; Spencer, I., Walter Crane, London, 1975; Lambourne, Lionel, The Aesthetic Movement, London, 1996; Newall, Christopher, 'Walter Crane', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 12 April 2002).