Decorated initial I

t seems just as possible to be born with pencil and paper in hand as with silver spoon in the mouth (as we are told is the fate of some), but being the son of my father I cannot remember life without those primal necessities—I mean pencil and paper—or, as in those days were the child’s principal drawing materials, pencil and slate. The facility which comes of early and constant practice, and the imitative faculty (evolved, I believe, in all by seeing work going on), were entirely fostered by the circumstances of my early life, and confirmed by early practical direction.

Recollections of the age of seven or eight years include certain fancy portraits of gentlemen in the large-patterned waistcoats of the early fifties, which I had the temerity to attach to certain studies of hands made by my father when painting his portraits and afterwards cast aside. These, so embellished, were shown to visitors, who expressed amiable surprise—especially at the skill with which the original hand was produced ! Undaunted by these early successes, and in spite of the apparent attractions of gunpowder, percussion caps, and old helmets, I remained faithful to pencil and paper, while essaying to depict scenes from the Crimean war, illustrations to Scott, alternating with copies from Frederick Taylor and Sir Edwin Landseer. A passion for drawing animals carried my early studies in that direction, and was afterwards strengthened by study at the Zoological Gardens. But these early years of which I am, writing were spent at Torquay, and it is to that neighbourhood that I owe my early impressions and love of the sea and landscape.

Being brought to London at the age of twelve, my childish ideas were naturally much influenced by the sights there. I distinctly remember the excitement of seeing the Academy Exhibition of 1857—the year of Millais’s ‘Sir Isumbras.’ Living quietly in the western suburbs, from which, at that time (before metropolitan railways) fields and farmsteads were easily accessible, my out- door studies and sketching of animals went on, but my father possessing a copy of John Ruskin’s first volume of “Modern Painters,” I was soon attracted by the eloquent descriptions of nature and of Turner’s pictures therein. The sight, too, of certain works of some of the leading pre-Raphaelites had a great effect, even at fourteen. I read Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing,” and sought to draw trees with every leaf showing.

A set of coloured page designs to Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott,” were, I think, my earliest effort in the way of book decoration, and I wrote out all the poem; this was a true forerunner or germ of the method of later work. These were shown by a friend of the family to Mr. Ruskin, and also to Mr. William James Linton, the famous wood-engraver, poet, and chartist. The former praised them, the latter at once found room for me in his office, at that time in Essex Street, Strand, the windows overlooking Fountain Court, Temple, and I was formally bound apprentice for three years to learn the art of drawing on wood for the engravers. I was in the midst of what was then a flourishing craft. To this circumstance may be attributed the determination of my work in the direction of book illustration. I was put to all sorts of work, from diagrams for medical books and trade catalogues, to illustrations of stories, and even to work which would now be described as that of a special artist to an illustrated paper. I also had opportunities of seeing the work of many different artists on the wood, from John Tenniel to D. G. Rossetti and Fredk. Sandys. At Linton’s oflice, too, I first made acquaintance with the work of William Blake (as Linton, did the reproductions for Gilchrist’s book). All these influences no doubt had their effect, as had the possession of the now famous Moxon’s illustrated Tennyson of 1857, for which I saved up my pocket-money, though the designs which fascinated me were those of Rossetti, Holman Hunt, and Millais exclusively. [1-2]


The Work of Walter Crane with Notes by the Artist. The Easter Art Annual for 1898: Extra Number of the “Art Journal”. London: J. S. Virtue, 1898. Internet Archive version of a copy in the Getty Art Institute. Web. 3 January 2018.

Created 5 January 2018