Kate Greenaway may not have been born an artist, but it did not take long for her talent to be realized and developed. Born in London, on March 17, 1846, she was the second child of John and Elizabeth Greenaway. She grew up in a variety of locales and experienced both city and rural life. In the summers, her family would visit Rollestown, “this is the heart of the matter: where she spent her formative years” (A. Lundin, 1998, p. 172). Kate was described by others as “quiet, dark-haired, rather retiring little lady, humorous, sincere and kind, loyal to her few chosen friends and filled with an indomitable will to work” (Neighbors, 1929, p. 95). When she grew ill as a child, she was taken to nurse in the home of one of her Aunt’s servants. She paid tribute to them in her unpublished autobiography (A. Lundin, 1998, p. 173). She was a “shy solitary child” and allowed “her artwork to express her fantasies” (A. Lundin, 1994). At age 12 she began art training and, “advanced rapidly and soon her work gave such promise of real ability that it was decided she should take up the profession of art as a career” (Neighbors, 1929, p. 96).
Kate was greatly influenced by the nature in which she spent her childhood. She was very fond of baskets and flowers and also had a preoccupation with dolls (A. Lundin, 1994, p. 174). Her family moved often, and finances were a struggle at times, but “Greenaway’s perspective is always that of a child” (A. Lundin, 1998, p. 174). In her journal, “she recounts how she loved to climb to the rooftop of her Islington home and look out over the other rooftops and, in the early morning light, imagine a ‘hidden dwelling place’” (A. Lundin, 1998, p. 181). This, and other childhood images, found their way into Under the Window, and in many ways the book can be viewed as semi-autobiographical.
John Ruskin and Kate
One of the most interesting relationships in Kate’s life was between her and John Ruskin. Ruskin was a Victorian art and social critic with whom Kate exchanged letters over a number of years. (Lloyd, 1995, p. 325). He had been interested in her art, and then once he got to know her their friendship “progressed rapidly” and he showed her that “he Admired her work and gave her his unstinted praise and valuable criticism (Neighbors, 1929, p. 97). She continued to write to him until his death, even when he was unable to return her letters any longer. (Neighbors, 1929, p. 97). Ruskin died in January of 1900 and Kate mourned him deeply (A. Lundin, 1994).
Kate published 21 books in her lifetime and while this is an incredible achievement on its own, it pales in comparison to the 113 manuscripts she illustrated (A. Lundin, 1994). Additionally, Kate was a well-respected greeting card illustrator who created designs for Marcus Ward and Company. See With Love Greeting Cards for more information on Kate’s work in this area. Because of her many accomplishments, a medal has been named in her honor. “The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children's illustrations and designs” (“The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal,” n.d.).
Kate suffered a long bout with breast cancer that cut her life short at age 55. She died on November 6, 1901 just a little over a year after losing her dear friend John Ruskin. Her ashes were buried in her family plot at Hampstead Cemetery. (A. Lundin, 1994). Her work has been considered influential and has often been imitated, and had she lived longer she would have “found herself still loved by little children and her name revered as one of the great pioneers in the history of illustrating books for children” (Neighbors, 1929, p. 97)