The Frog Prince by Walter Crane
The Frog Prince is a part of the so-called toy books, published between 1864 and 1876. This edition was first published in 1874 and was a result of already fruitful collaboration with Edmund Evans, skilled engraver and printer who was also a successful businessman with a superb feeling for the fusion of new technologies and already established market for children’s books.
Crane’s picture books were a step further from penny books which were selling at the train stations and other places where people tried to kill some time while waiting. They were printed on much better paper, in better, advanced printing technology, what was Evans’ part. Crane, on the other hand, took care of everything else. He adapted the text (in most cases an old text from collections of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, alphabet books, … without a specific author, designed the layouts, choose typography, … In short, he created a complete book and Evans produced and marketed it.
Walter Crane tried to understand a child’s psychology when most people, including doctors, didn’t even believe such a thing as kids psychology exists. Crane, for instance, noticed kids love simple compositions, clear, bold surfaces with vivid colors, but like to find smaller, seemingly less important details in pictures as well. He also believed kids prefer seeing portrayed characters in profiles, so he did most illustrations for kids from this point of view.
Another interesting observance (Crane, actually wrote several books on design too) from this definitely most influential artist of the generation was a kid’s perception of the illustration. He believed children like more symbolic two dimensional pictures more than more realistic and plastic images which were already on the market thanks to the rapid development of photography. A good enough picture is in kid’s eyes better than the best possible picture.
We’ll notice all these Crane’s mottos’ in the presented picture book. The Frog Prince was published in 1874 and was the first book where Evans gave more creative freedom to Crane. We can notice the influence of old Italian masters (Crane took a longer visit to Italy a few years before where he connected the learning potential of Italian art and his own honeymoon) and Japanese woodcuts (very popular among several painters and designers from this age).
There was a girl, a princess, who liked to play with her golden ball. It was her favorite toy. But one day it fell in the fountain. The princess couldn’t rich it. She couldn’t even see it.
Please, take a minute to observe all the tiny details in the picture. There is, of course, a dominant composition with a princess and a frog, she is taller, stronger, with all kinds of insignia, in all possible ways overpowering the frog (this relation will change), but there are also numerous miniatures, where the artist’s mastery fully shows:
- a carved fountain with a mythological creature,
- colorful butterflies in the grass,
- richly decorated edge of her gown,
- a well’known scene with a golden apple in the stone fence,
A deal has been closed. The princess promised to take the frog with her, eat with him, play with him and sleep with him if the frog finds the ball. Yet, the moment she got the ball back she runs home, forgetting all about their agreement. She didn’t expect the frog will follow her all the way to the castle. She even less expected the frog will knock on the door and demand from her to fulfill her part of the pact.
She is still in the position of power in this illustration. A closer look at her face reveals she is not very secure in her position. Almost countless details on the floor, the walls, and in the ceiling make this otherwise empty scene very lively and enjoyable for a viewer.
The king wanted to know what is going on. When he finds out about the princess’ broken promise, he demanded from her to put the frog on the table and give him some food. You may try to trick a frog, but you can’t say no to the king. Even more. The king ordered her to fulfill her other obligations as well. This means she has to take him in her bedroom!
The change of dynamics between the frog and the princess is obvious. She is degraded, he is promoted. Again, pay attention to the details in this double-sided illustration:
- each of the plates in the cupboard has its own decor,
- food on the table, the cutlery, all dishes, are presented in great detail,
- the dresses of the people in the room are real eye candy,
- the table is decorated with scenes from the Aesop’s Fables (another Crane’s project in the same series) with the frogs in major roles.
The scene in the princess bedroom is the most important scene in the fairy tale. We are not dealing with a frog (who became de facto the dominant character in the previous scene) anymore. He is a prince now. Not only prince – he wants to marry her, what is definitely a promotion for the princess as well. In older editions of The Frog Prince, she must sleep with him (in several versions free times!) before the transformation occurs. Brothers Grimm censored this part and she just throws the frog against the wall when she has enough of his demands. There was no kiss (don’t forget the phrase ‘kissing the frog) before the end of 19th century.
This illustration is another masterpiece of Walter Crane. The change of the frog in a handsome young man is shown in steps, similar to the life cycle of the frog. Only we don’t get a frog from the egg in this case. We get a prince from the frog! Countless artists illustrated the fairy tale about the princess and the frog, but most of them were limited to one illustration only. almost all of them focused n the scene by the fountain. Nobody dared to present the transformation from the frog to the prince in such way Walter Crane did.
This is the ending scene. The prince and the princess are leaving the castle, driving to his and her new home. A faithful servant named Henry is their companion. When his master changed in a frog he was so said his heart almost fell apart, so he bent it with three iron rings. Now, when the master is back in human shape, his happy heart needs more space and the rings are loudly breaking one by one.
The illustration is full of positive symbols, from fluttering banners in the background to pink roses on the road. Can you spot two frogs on the coat of arms on the cottage?
If you enjoyed the illustrations, , please visit: https://topillustrations.wordpress.com/2018/11/21/frog-king-in-pictures-illustrations-and-drawings/, where you’ll find many more, executed by dozens of great illustrators. Bye for now.