GREENAWAY, Kate (1846-1901)
Plaque erected in 1949 by London County Council at 39 Frognal, Hampstead, London, NW3 6YD, London Borough of Camden
Cartoons and Illustration, Literature
KATE GREENAWAY 1846-1901 ARTIST lived & died here
The artist and writer Kate Greenaway is best known for her Victorian children's book illustrations, particularly for her work on Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin. She is commemorated with a blue plaque at 39 Frognal in Hampstead, London – a house designed for her by Richard Norman Shaw and her home and studio for the last 16 years of her life.
Kate Greenaway was born on 17 March 1846 in Hoxton, London. Her childhood interests, which included going to the theatre and exploring the illustrations of the leading periodicals, reflected her vivid and visual imagination from an early age. At 12 years old she was enrolled at the Finsbury School of Art, followed by the National Art Training School in South Kensington from 1865. She later attended the Heatherley School of Fine Art and the Slade School of Fine Art.
In 1867, Greenaway’s first book illustration – the frontispiece for William HG Kingston's Infant Amusements; or, how to make a nursery happy – was published. Her work was influenced by the picturesque and caricaturist style of the 1830s and 40s. The following year she exhibited her work publicly for the first time at Dudley Gallery in London.
Under the Window (1879) was Greenaway’s first children’s picture book, composed of her own verses and illustrations. It became a huge commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies in her lifetime, and helped launch her career as a children’s book illustrator.
Life in Hampstead
In 1885, Greenaway bought 39 Frognal (originally 50) in Hampstead, a house that was designed for her by Norman Shaw, one of Britain's leading architects in the late 19th century. The asymmetrical, tile-hung, gabled design reflected the popular Arts and Crafts movement of the time.
The house contained an extensive studio for Greenaway's work, and a garden which she planted informally with traditional cottage flowers. The studio measured no less than 27 by 22 feet (8.2 by 6.7 metres) and its size contrasted markedly with the intimate scale of most of her drawings.
While living and working there, Greenaway was often visited by the artist John Ruskin, whom she had become close friends with. They had been introduced in 1880 and Ruskin had swiftly adopted Greenaway as one of his circle of female art protégées. Their correspondence continued for some 20 years, though much of it was left up to Greenaway. Ruskin even refused to write the address ‘Frognal’, remarking – ‘It might as well be Dognal-Hognal-Lognal – I won’t’ – and Greenaway was forced to keep him supplied with envelopes she addressed to herself for their correspondence.
In 1887, Greenaway illustrated Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin (published 1888) and it is perhaps her finest work. Illustrated in a Pre-Raphaelite style, the work featured beautifully complex designs, picturesque architectural settings and a limited autumnal palette of olive greens, pale teal blues, russets, and browns. The publication is considered one of the best illustrated children’s books of the Victorian period.
Greenaway remained living at Frognal until her death in 1901. During this time, she was elected to membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1889) and exhibited her work at the Palace of Fine Arts in Chicago (1893).
The blue plaque at 39 Frognal was erected in 1949 and was especially crafted with a coloured floral border so as to avoid diminishing the visual allure of Greenaway’s studio-house. In 1955 the Kate Greenaway Medal was established – a British literary award recognising distinguished illustration in books for children, and a testament to Greenaway's enduring legacy.