The Golden Age Of Children’s Book Illustration Begins

The so-called “Golden Age” of children’s illustrated books—a period dating from around 1880 to the early twentieth century—is today regarded as a literary epoch that produced some of the finest works of art ever created for children’s literature. The culmination of a progressive movement that, for the first time, focused on producing texts specifically oriented to appeal to children, this era continues to be cited as a major source of inspiration for modern juvenile authors and illustrators.

Illustrators of the Golden Age distinguished themselves through their use of modern art theories to reinterpret  classical texts such as folk tales. As a result, facets of several different artistic styles were used to reinvigorate conventional children’s publications, demonstrating the influences of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Art movements, Romanticism, Japonisme and Art Noveau,

A picture by Walter Crane from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Frog Prince”,  (1874), Public Domain,
“The Peacock’s Complaint’ from the book’ ‘The baby’s own Aesop’. illustrated by Walter Crane, 1887. Read about this picture HERE.

Many of the top artists of this era either earned lasting fame as a result of their work in children’s publishing, such as Walter Crane,  Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, or solidified already well-established reputations by crossing over to juvenile-themed illustrations, such as George Cruikshank.

From the book “Babes In the Wood” by Randolph Caldecott. 1879 .Public Domain.
From the picture book “Sing a song for sixpence”. Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, 1891. Public Domain..

Artists of this period are remembered for providing more intuitive connections between the text and image than had been present in children’s literature prior to the Victorian Age. They created  gateways to the text rather than drawing attention away from the text.

Frontispiece. ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, 1889.  Illustrated by Kate Greenaway, Public Domain
From “The fable of a girl and her milk pail’, 1905 , Illustrated by Kate Greenway, Public Domain.

Edmund Dulac

“Bluebeard” from Perrault’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Edmund Dulac, 1910
Madonna by Edmund Dulac
The Princess and the Pea, Edmund Dulac, 1911