Crane was a very gifted and versatile artist, who put his hand to several different medium. But his fame for socialists revolves around his genius in illustration of books and propagandising. His first illustrated book was "The New Forest" in 1862.

    The son of a moderately successful artist, Walter Crane was born in Liverpool, and brought up on the south coast of England, and in London. He was apprenticed to W. J. Linton, the engraver. It was Litton who first probably politicised Crane. Linton had been an old Chartist. Linton introduced him to the literary and artistic aesthetics of John Ruskin and the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Crane later paid homage to Shelley in his 1873 painting – made on his honeymoon entitled" Shelley's Tomb in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome". (See at:

    His career began as a conventional "fine" artist. He was attracted by romanticism - a movement that tends to dwell on historical paintings of sometimes alarming sentimentality. He was linked in this to a group called the Etruscan School:     Crane's first exhibit at the Royal Academy, was "The White Knight" illustrating the poem by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson – "The Lady of Shalott", in 1862.     Despite a very active socialist involvement (see below), he was considered so well as a ‘pure artist’, that he was invited to become in 1898, the head of the Royal College of Art.     It is worth putting Crane into an overall artistic context, as we will term him as a romantic - who overcame an "idealism" only within the socialist movement. However his style was certainly very much part of his time, being influenced by the school of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, formed in England in 1848. They re a reaction to "academicism in art" and trivial genres - common in European art at that time. They wished to "Have genuine ideas to express, to study Nature attentively.. to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt". In this, they did turn back to pseudo-medieval sentimentality however.
    Although Crane later moved well away from his early content materials, he retained a definite romantic style. At times this was remained over-powering as to militate against any sense of "realism" in art. There was a sense of yearning for an age-old English chivalric past – where as in the mystical Land of Plenty ("Cockayne") there were:     The term Romanticism in art, means something beyond the general usage of the term? It includes not a style - but an "attitude of mind". This attitude depicts a "nobility, grandeur, virtue, and superiority. It is linked to classicism in art  - but in contrast to classicism, offers an "ideal" imagery that is "unattainable". The Oxford Dictionary of Art has this (admittedly rather long) definition:     Even late on, Crane used mystic terminology to describe painting. He was a great admirer of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98). In his autobiography he recalled what Burne-Jones' effects on him:     This accorded with Burne-Jones' own views:     In this he was like his great fellow-socialist and friend - William Morris (1834-1896). Both men however, overcame the worst of a "backward longing", and fully embraced the socialist movement, and gave it all their tremendous talents.     Crane’s undoubted greatest strength was in illustration and design. By the time of the Paris Commune in 1870, he was well known as an illustrator of children's books and as a ceramic designer for Wedgwood, soon he was designing wallpapers and tiles.
    Perhaps his most famous and influential book was "Of the Decorative Illustrations of Books Old and New", first published in 1896. This profusely illustrated text, is frequently re-published. It is a comprehensive history of the development of design in books - from the Illuminations of the Middle Ages onwards – of book illustration. He used William Morris’s personal collection of early printed books to complete this. In it, he has this to say:     Like John Ruskin before him, and with William Morris, he attacked the capitalist appropriation of what - elsewhere he called "beauty":     Accordingly, as President, he brought workers-craftsmen, into the College of Art. His association with William Morris was doubly influential.

    For Morris was like Crane, not just a socialist but also a fervent and multi-talented artist. They both thought that the Arts and Crafts Movement ,was an essential part of the nobility of the working man.
   They insisted upon the primacy of beauty in everyday life and fought a battle against the philistinism of the capitalists. As artists – they linked the brutality of capital and its factory system, to its effects on craftsmanship and design. Morris's pamphlet "Art and Socialism", inspired Crane to become involved in the Art Workers' Guild and the Arts and Crafts Society.
    In 1888 Crane was instrumental in forming the Art and Crafts Exhibition Society, with William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Lewis F. Day, Heywood Sumner, Philip Webb and Onslow Ford. He became its first President. aimed to assist in the revival of arts and handicrafts - highlighting the craftsmen.

    By the 1860s Crane’s latent political views were becoming activated. He placed himself on the radical wing of the Liberal Party – which included those such as John Bright, Henry Fawcett and William Gladstone. On their behalf he campaigned for the 1867 Reform Act.
    But he moved beyond reformism quickly, and by the time of the Paris Commune of 1870, he was openly supporting the Communards. Two memorable cartoons are those in defence of the Commune (See gallery Cartoons at Trotskyist site: ).

    In January 1884 they both joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). Crane drew for the party journal Justice (Editor Henry Hyde Champion). Both had difficulties (like many of the left including Marx and Engels) with the sectarian and opportunist SDF leader - H. H. Hyndman.
    So in December, 1884, Walter Crane joined the Socialist League formed by William Morris, Belford Bax, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling. Crane drew for the party's journal, Commonweal (editor William Morris). He and Morris established the Coach House lectures for socialism:

    However Crane retained reformist illusions and also joined the Fabian Society of George Bernard Shaw and Sydney Webb. However, in 1900 Crane together with Ramsay MacDonald and Emmeline Pankhurst, resigned from the Fabian Society over its chauvinist support of the Boer War. Crane attacked the British Empire.
    By the late 1880s Crane was Britain's leading socialist artist. Many important commissions came to him including: "Chants of Labour" by Edward Carpenter, "The Triumph of Labour", for May Day in 1891; "Cartoons for the Cause" for the 1896 London International and Trade Union Congress.
Crane's socialist iconography became internationally known, in Europe, and in Italy and Germany.
        When in December 1914 his wife Mary was killed by a train, this ended a marriage of forty-four years. Crane immediately declined and died three months later on 14th March, 1915.