The British children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) created a distinct silhouette for her depictions of children, but “Greenaway Mothers” are immediately recognizable as well: nostalgically attired in the same Regency cottons as their children, perfectly coiffed curls swept up in a seemingly effortless updo (always adorned with the appropriate hat), participating in the scene rather than just looking on. And husbandless–there are no “Greenaway fathers” to be found.
Greenaway grew up in the East End of London at the height of the Industrial Revolution, but she was able to spend precious time outside the city staying with relatives in the countryside, the setting for the perfect worlds she created in illustrations for over 60 books and countless serial publications, including The Girl’s Own Annual, for which the 1887 lithograph above was made. Along with Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott, Greenaway was one of the so-called “Nursery Triumvirate” who worked with color printer Edmund Evans to revolutionize the children’s picture book industry in the later nineteenth century. Greenaway’s works included multiple editions of Mother Goose and ABC books, as well as “new” story books, and within a decade of the beginning of her career she was the author as well as the illustrator. Among the most popular of her publications was the annual Almanack she published between 1883 and 1895.
The middle image above is the only one I could find of working Greenaway mothers, placed in a somewhat industrial setting, but they still wear the idealized costumes of at least a half-century earlier. More characteristic in its bucolic background and floral motifs is Marigold Garden. Pictures and Rhymes by Kate Greenaway, first published in 1885.
Kate Greenaway created not only lasting images, but also a lasting brand. Her clothing was manufactured and sold to upper-middle-class mothers who wanted just that certain “handcrafted” look for their children while Greenaway-inspired prints graced textiles, tiles, and wallpapers. An 1893 example of the latter from the Victoria & Albert Museum is below, along with a modern version of a “Greenaway dress” by British paper artist Jennifer Collier.
May 8th, 2011 at 8:57 am
Well I’ve never looked that closely at the the Greenaway mothers but the post inspired me into picking out an old Mother Goose from the bookshelf. They are, as you comment, very measured in appearance – calming, slim! and rosy cheeked whether well healed or ‘working’ mothers.
May 8th, 2011 at 9:42 am
I like your adjectives, Julia: they certainly are a calm presence, and slim—the better to fit into those regency-esque dresses!
May 9th, 2011 at 6:49 am
Right down my alley! Thank you! I love Greenaway’s work—pure inspiration on so many levels.
May 9th, 2011 at 7:00 pm
I know, Penny; I thought of you when I was putting this together. Love to talk to you about Greenaway; she was a really interesting woman.