Muse: Victorian Era Illustrator Kate Greenway

March is nearly upon us dear friends and of course this has me thinking several times a day about flowers. Perhaps because all the seasonal blooms in Portland are sprouting out of the ground to meet the sun!

Along my February walks I have come across crocuses, snowdrops, camelias, hellebores, wild narcissis, daffodils, and the intoxicating sweet scent of daphne blooms... and as Spring awakens even more in our neck of the woods, more and more flowers will stem up.

It was an absolute delight for me to come across the work of British illustrator Kate Greenway who had a thriving illustration business during the Victorian Era and who mostly became known for depicting her subjects in early 18th century garments. A Victorian gal inspired by the likes of Jane Eyre, or rather Regency style! Isn't that just delightful to know?

I love coming across artists in history who were very clearly inspired by another era not their own. Perhaps because I always look to the past for my own inspiration that I feel such a kinship to these artists. What I adore about Kate Greenway's work is that while she was inspired by a different era, she didn't try to replicate it exactly and instead took the notes of inspiration and made them entirely her own. 

I adore her use of color, the tiny little blossoms she illustrates into frames around her subject, the way the garments seem to appear as if the subject were just caught in a brisk Spring or Autumn wind. Her work has hints of art nouveau, but only just a bit which I adore. Sometimes too much is a bit too gaudy for me.

A Special Talent in... Dainty Colours

Kate Greenway first got her start illustrating greeting cards! During the Victorian era, greeting cards became a HUGE industry and Kate's freelance work with Marcus Ward & Co, a prominent publishing company known for illustrated books and greeting cards, were very well received and it was said that “her special talent was in the direction of costume figures and dainty colours...” and some of her valentine's day card illustrations would sell 25,000 copies in a week! 

Nostalgia for the Country

Kate lived in London and as you can imagine, Victorian era London was noisy, busy, and dirty. Her father was a draughtsman and received a large new commission to work on engravings for a new edition of The Pickwick Papers, a novel by Charles Dickens. He sent Kate and her mother went to live in the countryside (with Dear Ole Mum's family) while Dear Ole Dad stayed in London to work in solitude. Sadly, the company that had hired Kate's father went bankrupt and so the family became nearly penniless. However the time spent in the countryside was formidable for Kate's young years and she would often recall such fond memories of the countryside as "...she felt it to be her real home, a country of the mind that she could always reimagine." (I feel ya Kate!)

Influence on Fashion

Kate's mother was a seamstress and after the commission fiasco, she opened up a dress and millinery shop in Islington and the family lived above it (Kate was an only child). There was a little garden in the back where Kate could often be found in where she spent hours admiring all the flowers and have moments of solitude. (Le sigh, this sounds like a dream to me, I want to live above my shop and have a garden in the back!)

Perhaps it was because Kate's mother was a seamstress that she paid such close attention to the details of the garments her subjects wore. Her decision to depict children and adults in Regency inspired clothing really influenced the fashion of her time and mothers (in higher society circles) started to dress their children in "Kate Greenway Fashions" and even the famed Liberty of London came out with a collection inspired by Miss Greenway.

I mean, how MODERN does that sound? An illustrator influences fashion trends and does a collaboration with a hugely known brand? Sounds a lot like what's happening in our current times. Ahhh, I adore coming across stories and tidbits of history like these because it reminds me we are not so different so apart from one another even in the threads of time. 

Further Reading

If you would like to find out much more about Victorian illustrator Kate Greenway, do visit Illustration History / Kate Greenway and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

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le MUSES articles feature inspiring women from history and modern day who capture the essence of Adored Vintage's favorite quote, "Live the life you always imagined" (Thoreau). We love to research and share information about women who have paved the way to living truest to oneself... independent, creative, driven, daring, unconventional, and timelessly beautiful.

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