Biography: Kate Greenaway, best known for her children's book illustrations, was born on the eve of the expansion of the Victorian book and magazine market, a circumstance that provided a myriad of new economic opportunities, particularly for the female artist.
At age twelve she began studying art at the Finsbury School of Art, one of the local branch schools of the National Art Training School. She continued her education at the central government school in South Kensington, enrolling in the "Female School of Art." Her first illustration appeared in 1867, the frontispiece to Infant Amusements, or How to Make a Nursery Happy. In 1869 she achieved recognition in the fine arts, receiving one of only two silver medals given to female students at the South Kensington School of Art. Dissatisfied with the routine nature of the government schools' training, she moved to Heatherley's School of Art, the only institution of the day without entrance requirements, where artists could simply pay a fee and gain access to study from the nude model. Some years later she moved on to the Slade School, directed by Edward Poynter (Burne-Jones's brother-in-law), whose goal was to remove the regulations and limitations as practiced in the National Art Training curriculum.
Greenaway became nationally recognized for her illustrations with the publication of Under the Window (London, 1878), a collection of drawings of children with accompanying original verse. John Ruskin was particularly appreciative of the text, and with its publication he began a twenty-year correspondence with the artist. Greenaway is somewhat unique among Ruskin's female protégées in that she resisted Ruskin's advice and strictures regarding stylistic alterations.
Under the Window was followed by her Birthday Book for Children in 1880 (London). There followed a steady flow of illustrated books, spawning a whole genre of imitations. Greenaway's books reflect a London-dweller's memories of an ideal country childhood, a world that may have been better appreciated by the nostalgic parents who purchased them than the children to whom they were directed. Born in the London suburbs, Greenaway had spent her childhood holidays in the remote countryside of Nottinghamshire. Her illustrations are sweet, quaint, sometimes saccharine, and strongly influenced by those of Walter Crane. The Queen Anne style of clothing worn by the children depicted in her books reflects a broader revival that was particularly prominent in English architecture from the 1860s to the end of the century. The success of Kate Greenaway's books, immensely popular during her lifetime and after, allowed her to commission the fashionable architect of artists' houses, Richard Norman Shaw, to design her home and studio in Hampstead in 1885. Shaw was a key figure in the transformation of the neighborhood to one of Queen Anne style.
In addition to making illustrations, Greenaway painted and exhibited. Her first painting, The Fairies of the "Caldon Lw" (location unknown), was shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1869, and she continued to exhibit her work at the Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy. In 1891 her first solo exhibition opened at the Fine Art Society, a new exhibition venue, founded in the 1870s, whose entrepreneurial managers took up a series of women artists in the 1890s, nurturing them and capitalizing on their success.
Greenaway was a good friend and sketching companion of the watercolorist Helen Allingham (1848-1926), whom she had first met while training at the Slade School: the two of them were the subject of Ruskin's lecture "Fairy Land," delivered in 1883. In later years her friendship with Allingham was a source of consolation and support. Kate Greenaway died of cancer in 1901, a year that was, appropriately, the official end of the Victorian age.
From "Biography of Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 362.