Walter Crane cover design for ‘Illustrations of the Victorian Series and Other Wall-Papers’

Design for ‘Illustrations of the Victorian Series and Other Wall-Papers’, Walter Crane, about 1887. Museum no. E.10-2009

Design for ‘Illustrations of the Victorian Series and Other Wall-Papers’ by Walter Crane. Manufactured by Jeffrey & Co, 64 Essex Road, London, about 1887. Pencil, pen and ink, wash and bodycolour on paper. Museum no. E.10-2009

This design for the cover of a book of wallpapers manufactured by Jeffrey and Co was created by Walter Crane (1845-1915) in 1887. Crane was a socialist artist involved in the creation of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the Art Workers' Guild. He remains perhaps best known for his illustrations of children's books.

Wallpaper art was very popular in the nineteenth century and was dominated by the figure of William Morris. After the publication of Woodnotes in 1886 which combined manuscript illumination with pagan symbolism, Crane's designs incorporated more natural elements such as acanthus leaves. Crane worked with Metford Warner, the proprietor of Jeffrey and Co, alongside prominent artists such as Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Warner stated that he sought out artistic talent in order to elevate wallpaper to the level of art. Many of the artists were followers of Morris and shared his belief in the socially reforming power of art that could be appreciated and consumed by the masses. They repudiated the idea that fine art was 'higher' than decorative art and Morris fully embraced the ideals of the medieval guild of craftsmen who designed and created their own work. These ideals arose from dissatisfaction with the style and quality of machine-made industrial goods, and a longing to return to hand-crafted industry. Ironically Morris's wallpapers were too expensive for the masses who could not afford to buy them.

This image shows a winged young man blowing a horn or trumpet, surrounded by swirling acanthus leaves. His dress could be medieval and there is an illuminated scroll, next to the male figure, advertising  'Illustrations of the Victorian Series and Other Wall-Papers manufactured by Jeffrey and Co…Patterns may be had of all leading decorators'. A number of stars which appear to be similar to the Star of David are depicted on his person. However, this was not a widespread symbol of the Jewish people until the First Zionist Congress chose it as their emblem in 1897.  The star and other similar symbols were included by Owen Jones in his seminal work The Grammar of Ornament (1854) in which he examined Byzantine decoration. Walter Crane's monogram - his initials and a crane - can be seen at the bottom right hand corner of the design.

The National Art Library has several original copies of  'Illustrations of the Victorian Series and Other Wall-Papers'.

The original design can be seen on request in the V&A prints and drawings study room.

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