Walter Crane and Mythology in Children's Books

Walter Crane
Illustration is all about ideas and inspiration which can be turned into a theme relevant to the story – whether it is for a children’s book, painting or editorial illustration.

From her list of inspiring illustrators Chloe Yelland has selected Walter Crane, who demonstrated a unique focus of fairytale combined with mythology, specifically Greek.

Walter Crane (1845-1915), a key figurative book illustrator and decorative artist of the nineteenth century, serves as a perfect example of how
fairytale was combined with mythology, primarily due to his use of many themes which influenced his work within the Aesthetic Movement, an organization of which he was a key believer.

In 1863, British painter William Rothenstein said: 

‘Nowhere is the peculiar character of the mid-Victorian aesthetic movement better interpreted than in the children’s picture books’

which reinforces how Crane demonstrated a constructive use of imagination through characterization, where enchantment and mythological subjects within the fairytale, better referred to as romantic themes, appear through a narrative perspective.

Crane utilised symbolism and the legendary medieval world and combined them with fairytale and myth to connect with the Aesthetic movement. These elements are established through art and literature so that readers can appreciate both the beauty and meaning.

Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane, 1874

Take Walter Crane’s Beauty and the Beast as an example. In a statement surrounding Aestheticism and myth, art historian Elizabeth Prettejohn describes Crane’s methods as

"the intextuality of the movement through art as well as literature"

The fan is a symbol of the birth of Venus, a reference to either the Roman goddess of love and beauty, or Aphrodite from Greek Mythology. In the illustration above the woman is holding the fan to represent comeliness within the context of the story, whereas the beast is desperate to find the love of a beautiful woman to break his curse.

Front cover of modern edition

One other feature that fascinates me is characterization. In Beauty and the Beast there are hints of medievalism, combined with aestheticism. Taking clothing as an example, you can see that they are from different ages despite the scenery being Victorian. The woman has a combination of classical Greek dress to demonstrate her beauty as the first main protagonist to the fairytale. And the beast is wearing an old Turkish uniform which associates with Victorian Medievalism in reference to his partial humanity, which he masks through the suffering he is forced to endure - some may call it a punishment - for his selfish actions.

Chloe Yelland is a student at Derby University, studying for her BA (Hons) in Illustration. Her blog is here, or follow her on Twitter.


  1. I love that we have an article like this on Words and Pictures. Let's see more! Thank you to the student who submitted this!

  2. I agree - lovely to see Crane's work here, and there's so much in old books to be inspired by!


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