Kate Greenaway, English artist and book illustrator, was born in London on March 17, 1846. She was the daughter of John Greenaway, a well-known draughtsman and engraver on wood and Elizabeth Catherine Jones, a seamstress and children's clothing designer. Her early education included life drawing and watercolor painting classes at Heatherleys in Chelsea and at the Slade School of Fine Art. She began to exhibit her drawings and watercolors in 1868 at London's Dudley Gallery, and her first published illustrations appeared in such magazines as Little Folks.
With her father's connections in the trade she was able to convince Edmund Evans, a well known color printer, to publish her first collection of poetry and drawings, Under the Window, in 1879. He was able to translate all the charm of Greenaway's idyllic pastoral scenes to paper through a costly process that involved the photographing of her dainty water colors on to wood blocks. Against expert advice Evans published only 20,000 copies which immediately sold out and a second printing of 70,000 was produced.
The Birthday Book (1880), Mother Goose (1881), and Little Ann (1883) soon followed and were equally successful. These four books marked the pinnacle of Greenaway's critical and commercial success. They were referred to as "toy-books" but these works created a revolution in children's book illustration with their naturalness and real-life qualities. They were favorably compared to Walter Crane's famous series of sixpenny toy-books.
A leading feature in Miss Greenaway's work was her revival of the delightfully quaint costume of the early 19th century; this lent humor to her fancy and so captivated the public taste that it was said that Kate Greenaway dressed the children of two continents. Liberty's of London adapted Kate Greenaway's drawings as designs for a line of children's clothes. A full generation of mothers in the liberal-minded 'artistic' British circles, calling themselves "The Souls" and embracing the Arts and Crafts movement, dressed their daughters in Kate Greenaway pantaloons and bonnets throughout the 1880s and '90s.
Through her association with Evans, Greenaway was introduced to Randolph Caldecott, the illustrator of a highly successful series of children's books which were published each Christmas for eight years. Caldecott's work was more detailed and varied than Greenaway's and they were friendly rivals until his death in 1886. The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
Ms. Greenaway went on to illustrate more than 20 books as well as commissioned portraits of children. She died November 7,1901 of breast cancer. In 1955 the Library Association of Great Britain established the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is awarded yearly to the artist living and publishing in Great Britain who has produced the most distinguished children's book illustrations for that year. Like the Caldecott Medal, it is considered the highest honor.