Senate House Library has several examples of Walter Crane’s published illustrations, both black-and-white and colour. Crane was silent about the black books in his autobiography, An Artist’s Reminiscences. We know about them from their survival, mostly at Yale and Harvard (29 books), with three in the Sterling Library at Senate House Library, one for Lancelot and two, from April 1880 and 30 January 1881, for Beatrice. Featured here is Beatrice’s Painting Book, written just over 140 years ago on 30 January 1881. It is showcased in the SHL150 online gallery displaying 150 unique and treasured items, charting the growth of the Library’s collections since the arrival of its founding collections in 1871.
Beatrice’s Painting Book starts with the five fairies who keep the house in order, inducing appreciation of servants. A combination of celestial geography and Classical mythology follows, with the planets personified. Each flaunts a particular possession: for example, Mr Mercury his thermometer, which extends from his shoulder to below his waist, and Juno her peacock’s tail, ‘with eyes enough to see by’. Crane embraces further mythological deities such as Vesta, Rhea, and Europa. Next he turns his attention to terrestrial geography and different Eurasian nationalities, portraying a man and a woman for each nationality: English (arm in arm, with a bulldog in the background), French (the man, moustached, lifts his hat to the lady), German, Italian, Spanish, Russian (against a winter background), Turkish, Greek, and Swiss (with an alpenstock, and a backdrop of mountains).
Was each picture a mnemonic, the starting point for a good-night story, an improving lesson, or some sort of mixture? The final picture is of numerous tiny figures entitled: ‘Besides a great many more than this book will hold’. This attractive way of saying ‘The End’ points to continuation and more beginnings, a little like the famed ‘But that’s (or that is) another story (and shall be told another time)’.