Thursday, March 17, 2016

Birthday Book of the Day: Kate Greenaway's Pied Piper of Hamelin

It’s the birthday of Catherine “Kate” Greenaway (1846-1901), one of the leading illustrators of the Victorian era. Educated at the Royal College of Art, she illustrated her first published work in 1867. She produced her own first book, a collection of children’s verses called Under the Window, in 1879. It was an immediate bestseller.

Her style was, like Randolph Caldecott’s, instantly recognizable: “Kate Greenaway" children, all of them little girls and boys too young to be put in trousers, were dressed in her own versions of late eighteenth century and Regency fashions: smock-frocks and skeleton suits for boys, high-waisted pinafores and dresses with mobcaps and straw bonnets for girls. The influence of children's clothes in portraits by British painter John Hoppner (1758–1810) may have provided her some inspiration. Liberty of London adapted Kate Greenaway's drawings as designs for actual children's clothes. A full generation of mothers in the liberal-minded "artistic" British circles who called themselves "The Souls" and embraced the Arts and Crafts movement dressed their daughters in Kate Greenaway pantaloons and bonnets in the 1880s and 1890s. The style was often used by painter Maude Goodman in her depictions of children. As in the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, Greenaway’s work shows the confluence of art, commerce, and taste-making in the dawn of mass marketing and the heyday of the private circulating library. By the 1880s, Greenaway had become a brand name, publishing Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book, Christmas Carols, Alphabet, Album, Book of Games and A Painting Book.

Greenaway was also a successful designer of bookplates. She was elected to the Royal Society of Artists in Water Colors in 1889. In her 35-year career, she illustrated 62 books, most using chromoxylography, a process of printing pictures from engraved, colored-ink blocks. The past master of this process, and her frequent collaborator, was Edmund Evans. Greenaway was not one to shy from new technologies, however; one of her last books was produced using the new technology of color lithography.

Rivaled only by Caldecott and Walter Crane, Greenaway's authors included Bret Harte, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, Robert Ellice and Andrew Lang. she divided her time between an Arts & Crafts-style manse she commissioned in the London suburb of Frognal and a summer place near Nottingham. Greenaway died of Breast cancer in 1901. In 1955, the Kate Greenaway Medal scheme was launched to honor the best children’s illustrated book of the year in Britain.

Greenaway’s work has shown remarkable staying power. Its combination of nostalgia and timelessness keeps her work in print to this day. In honor of her life and work, Henry Bemis Books has one of her classics on offer:

Browning, Robert, The Pied Piper of Hamelin (London/New York: Frederick Warne & Co., 1888, reprinted c. 1970s. ISBN 0-7232-0586-8. Illustrated by Kate Greenaway; engravings by Edmund Evans. Former school library copy; good condition. Hardcover, no dust jacket, printed cover illustration. Quarto, 48 pp. Not a collector’s book, but one that a child will enjoy, or an adult with a fondness for the old ways of libraries will cherish:  on the back endpapers is the now-vanished checkout card slot, including that card and the library catalog index card, pulled when the book was deaccessioned. 

Inquire re pricing to make an offer.

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at  Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like. #KateGreenaway #LiteraryBirthdays #Book of the Day #RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

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