Kate Greenaway
During the 1870’s, three artists emerged changing the face of children’s picture books forever. The artists Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway were noteworthy because their books were designed for children. Though Crane and Caldecott are still remembered, the illustrations of Kate Greenaway have endured the test of time and still have a place in today’s nursery.

The essence of Victorian childhood is exhibited in the idealized children of Greenaway’s work.  Her dreamy little figures seem almost melancholy as they prance through the English countryside unaware of time or place. Their outfits of frilly smocks, mob caps and sunbonnets seem Regency in appearance but are none-the-less the figments of Miss Greenaway’s girlish imagination. They are an outcome of her unwillingness to leave childhood behind.


Originally named Catherine, Kate was born on March 17, 1846 (within days of Caldecott’s birth and months of Crane’s birth), in Hoxton, North London. Her father John Greenaway was a master engraver and her mother, Elizabeth Catherine Jones, was an accomplished seamstress. Kate’s choice of profession was clearly influenced by John Greenaway. They had a special bond and he served as a guiding force throughout her life. It is often thought that he was Kate’s biggest influence, however, her mother influenced her subject matter more than any one.

Money was always tight because John supported his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters as well as his growing family. When times got tough, Elizabeth took financial matters into her own hands. She moved the family to Islington and opened a dress shop making clothing for children. She was so successful that she had to hire outworkers. Later, she expanded her services to include millinery, underclothing and eventually lady’s clothing.

Kate lived a happy and carefree childhood. She enjoyed watching the well dressed people come in and out of the shop. She had a photographic memory and many of the outfits her mother made reappeared in her books later. For the most part, Kate was left on her own to explore her surroundings and daydream. Later she said, “Living in that childish wonder is a most beautiful feeling—I can so well remember it. There was always something more—behind and beyond everything—to me, the golden spectacles were very, very big.”

Her summers were spent in Nottinghamshire with relatives. The folks in this small village wore simple clothing long past the height of fashion. It was this country that she loved so well and depicted in her artwork. Her love for flowers grew out of the many gardens she saw there. She especially liked the neatly tended and tidy gardens.


Kate had little formal schooling and was taught at home by local women who, at times, had little education themselves. She did not always pay attention and was often caught drawing. When Kate was twelve, she was enrolled at the Finsbury School of Art which she attended for six years. At eighteen she attended the Central School in South Kensington. Women were not allowed to draw from the nude there. In 1871 she attended the newly founded Slade School because they advertised equal education for both sexes. She also attended Heatherley’s School of Art in the evenings.

Professional Career

Her father’s high quality craftsmanship as a master engraver and his connections “in the trade” proved very profitable to Kate, he helped her to get a few small commissions. In 1867, Kate produced her first printed piece, a frontispiece for a book called Infant Amusements. She also started doing greeting card, calendar and book illustrations for Marcus Ward, a Belfast company with an office in London whose art director was Thomas Crane, brother of Walter. One of her card designs sold over 25,000 copies in just a few weeks time. She was paid only three pounds but her work was starting to be noticed. After six years, Kate stopped working for Marcus Ward because he refused to return her original drawings after reproduction.

In 1876, Kate’s father contacted Edmund Evans, another engraver who had apprenticed with Greenaway early in their careers. He knew that if anyone would appreciate Kate’s artwork and be able to further her career, it would be Evans. Kate was reluctant to show Evans her portfolio but he quickly realized that her style was well suited to his wood-block printing process. They agreed that Evans would purchase the original artwork and have a poet correct a few oddities with the verse in exchange for one third of the profits.

Her first book with Evans, Under the Window, came out in October of 1879. Evan’s was so taken with Kate’s drawings that no expense was spared. He used four color blocks to reproduce her delicate watercolors—red, blue, yellow and flesh. The publisher, Routledge, advised Evan’s against a large printing but the 20,000 copies sold almost immediately and Evans had to produce a second printing of 70,000. 

Her earnings allowed her and her father to share expenses for a nicer home in a higher class neighborhood. She now had room for a studio and garden. Kate worked everyday in her studio from eight until one. She would draw from her child models or manikins dressed in the outfits that she designed and sewed herself. She spent her afternoons walking or window shopping, returning home later for the highlight of her day, afternoon tea. In the summer, she had tea in her beautiful garden where she would plant the flowers that she would need in her illustrations. Night time was spent reading or sewing.


She became quite friendly with the Evans family and visited them regularly. Through her association with Edmund Evans she met Randolph Caldecott, another one of Evan’s talented book artists. They remained friendly rivals, offering each other professional advice, until his death in 1886. Caldecott noted that the success of Kate’s books had hurt the sales of his books.

Walter Crane, on the other hand, was not as friendly. He felt that her drawing had little merit and that the clothing was overdone. He was upset when the publisher planned to market Greenaway’s Under the Window together with his Baby’s Opera and demanded him to stop. After meeting her, he said, “My impressions of Kate Greenaway were of a very quiet and unobtrusive personality, probably observant, self-contained, reserved, with a certain shrewdness.”

Evan’s also introduced her to Frederick Locker-Lampson, the poet who corrected her verse in Under the Window. Frederick took an interest in young Kate’s career. She was flattered by the attentions of this rich handsome middle-aged man and listened to much of his advice. Though she was shy, he was pleased to bring her to museums, social events and to introduce her to society in general.

The popularity of her book caused her to start getting fan letters—including one from noted art critic John Ruskin. He complemented her greatly on her book but didn’t fail to mention a few weaknesses. Flattered by Ruskin’s comments, Kate wrote back, starting what would become a 20 year correspondence with this man.

For the next several years, Kate and Evans collaborated on several more books, all of which did well. Evans also convinced her to illustrate her first Almanack in 1883, which sold over 90,000 copies. Eventually Kate was to receive five pounds per drawing and half of the profits.

Kate’s books were enormously popular in Britain and America. The public could not seem to get enough of Kate Greenaway and there were imitators every where. Pirated copies of her books were being sold in Europe and especially America. Greenaway items started appearing everywhere including wallpaper, plates, scarves, fashions and dolls.

Eventually, Kate insisted on selling only the rights to her work and keeping her original art. This insured  her artistic control and any future income from additional sales after publication. “I have made it a rule for a long time, not to part with the copyright of my drawings, for I have been so copied, my drawings reproduced and sold for advertisements and done in ways I hate,” she later commented.

Through Locker-Lampson, she made many new wealthy friends that soon became patrons. They commissioned her to do portraits of their children.  She was now exhibiting at the Royal Academy and her work sold easily, however, with fame came more criticism.

Locker-Lampson helped Kate take criticism in stride. He encouraged her and increased her self-confidence. He urged her to read to make up for her deficient education. He checked to make sure Evans offers were equal to Caldecott’s but Evans was always fair and never discriminated against women. Locker-Lampson also encouraged Kate into buying a lot and hiring an architect to build her a new house and tutored her in the nicest furniture to buy, all of which was beyond her means. 

 Although Kate and Ruskin corresponded regularly, it was several years before they met. He could be lavish with his praise or cruelly harsh with his criticism. Their letters became more intimate. He invited her for a visit and she returned, convinced that a marriage proposal was forthcoming despite the fact that he was 64 years old and she being only 36. John Ruskin now occupied the place in Kate Greenaway’s heart that was previously occupied by Locker-Lampson. This would prove to be an error in judgement for Kate. Where Locker-Lampson had built up her confidence, Ruskin had destroyed it. Locker-Lampson was upset by this turn of events  but dared not tell Kate why. It was generally known that Ruskin’s marriage had been annulled  amidst scandal in 1854 and that he was no longer of sound mind. Rumors abounded about his affections for young girls. He feared that Kate’s drawings of prepubescent girls were the reason for Ruskin’s attention. But these were not things that a gentleman tells a young lady about.

Ruskin felt that book illustration was a lower art and encouraged Kate to become a real painter. He encouraged her to do nature studies in watercolor. Despite his urgings, she continued to do book illustration because they constituted a healthy income for her.

Evans was concerned by Ruskin’s influence as Kate Greenaway’s style was a great asset to his firm. He invited her to stay with his family. While there she relaxed and worked on another book, The Language of Flowers, considered by many to be her finest book. Published in 1884, half of the first edition  of 19,500 went straight to America. Ruskin was highly critical of it, suggesting that they should collaborate on a project together. Kate was torn between her old friend Evans and her mentor Ruskin.

Kate continued to visit Ruskin and eventually witnessed one of his mental breakdowns. Her next few books did not sell well, barely 10,000 or less copies. Kate was confused and depressed. She felt that her style was out of favor with the public which convinced Kate that Ruskin was right.

At Ruskin’s urging, she started to concentrate on larger watercolors. Her old friend from school, Helen Allingham, had much success with her watercolors of cottages, so Kate decided to try that as well. Unfortunately, the public only compared her to the more accomplished Mrs. Allingham.

John Greenaway’s death in 1890 was a blow to Kate, for she was very close to him. Four years later, her mother died as well. She had over extended herself in building her new house and money was now tight. Few illustration jobs were coming in. With a shrinking income, Kate had to cut back and took on the chore of housekeeping herself. In order to generate more income, she took on a few portrait commissions. Sales of her new watercolors were low. She became increasingly tired and depressed.

The death of John Ruskin in 1900 was yet another blow for Kate although she had given up on the idea of marriage years before. By then she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately, she had decided on the life saving surgery too late and she died on November 6, 1901. Several weeks after her death, her brother held an exhibit of her work that was poorly attended and failed to realize much money.

Raison d’Étre

Kate Greenaway was a young girl who never wanted to grow up. Her childhood was the source of all her happiness. She is quoted as saying that she cried the first time she had to wear a long dress. It is true that she and Ruskin played children’s games and engaged in baby talk. Is it any wonder that she chose to depict that which made her the happiest? She was known to have a photographic memory and it served her well as she drew upon her happier moments.

She knew that she was not the best draftsman and worked diligently at improving, especially in drawing anatomy. Unfortunately, the enormous popularity of her books was not enough. Instead, she looked to those around her for validation. In the end, Ruskin served to lower her self-esteem and question her own judgment.

Kate Greenaway was depressed because she felt out-of-fashion. Had she not kept to herself she would have known otherwise. Perhaps her rich patrons had moved on but her adoring public clamored for more. When Edmund Evans retired, he sold the copyrights to Kate’s books to Frederick Warne who reissued her books in 1900. Merchandise popped up everywhere sporting a “Kate Greenaway” design and imitators of her book style abounded. Her artwork has endured and to this day, is still in print and being merchandised. Her lack of self-esteem, it seems, was not based in fact.

In 1955, the Library Association of Great Britain established the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is awarded annually to the artist living and publishing in Britain who has produced the most distinguished children’s book illustrations for that year. Receiving this medal is considered the highest honor an English illustrator can receive.

Children’s Books Illustrated by Kate Greenaway

A Kate Greenaway Page
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The Kate Greenaway Medal Award Winners
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Exhibit of Kate Greenaway Almanacs
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Browning, Robert, The
Pied Piper of Hamelin,
London, Routledge,
1888. Engraved and colour
printed by Edmund Evans.
Browning, Robert, The
Pied Piper of Hamelin,
London, Routledge,
1888. Engraved and colour
printed by Edmund Evans.
Routledge's Every Girl's
Annual, London,
An early greeting card
design for Marcus Ward
of Belfast.
Title page of Kate's first
book. Under the Window,
London, Routledge, 1877.
Engraved and colour
printed by Edmund Evans.
Language of Flowers,
London, Routledge, 1884.
Engraved and colour
printed by Edmund Evans.
Marigold Garden: Pictures
and Rhymes, London,
Routledge, 1885. Engraved
and colour printed by
Edmund Evans.
Marigold Garden: Pictures
and Rhymes, London,
Routledge, 1885.
Engraved and colour
printed by Edmund Evans.
Knox, Kathleen, Fairy
Gifts; or, A Wallet  of
Wonders, Griffith &
Farran, 1874.
Allingham, William,
Rhymes for the Young
Folk, Cassell and Co.,
Marigold Garden: Pictures and Rhymes,
London, Routledge, 1885. Engraved and
colour printed by Edmund Evans.


Dalby Richard, The Golden Age of Children's Book Illustration, New York, Gallery, 1991.
Feaver, William, When We Were Young, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.
Hedblad, Alan, editor, Something About the Author, volume 100, Detroit, Gale Publishing, 1999.
Mahoney, Bertha E. et al., Illustrators of Children's Books 1744-1945, Boston, The Horn Book Inc., 1947.
Meyer, Susan E., A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1983.
Taylor, Ina, The Art of Kate Greenaway. Gretna: Pelican Publishing, 1991.
© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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