Best Children’s Illustrators (a Musea Guide)


In this installment of Best Painters, Musea looks at the Best Children’s Illustrators. These are the artists whose pictures not only make the everyday world of children, magical, but transform the imaginary world of fairy tales, enchanted lands, and monstrous beasts into reality – right before our eyes! *

1. Kate Greenaway 1846-1901. It is said of this British watercolorist, “She is best known for sugar-sweet pictures of little children…It can be hard for the modern eye to adjust to this, because we are bombarded with so much third-rate stuff of this nature..” (Bob Speel) Yet her work was far from greeting card quality. Yes she pictured an innocent, delightful, and Victorian costumed, world of small children, but her paintings had inventive compositions, fine color, and that certain lively magic that made them so attractive then AND now. She was well liked in her time and became wealthy for her work. Example: Mother Goose. (She also illustrated some of her own children’s writings) A true pioneer of the genre.

2. Jesse Wilcox Smith 1863-1935. (note: many critics consider the period 1870-1930 to be the ‘Golden Age of Illustrators. That matches the years of JWS’s life very closely.) The American, Howard Pyle, a fine painter and boy’s illustrator in his own right, was teacher and inspirer to 2 names on our list – N.C. Wyeth, and Jesse Wilcox Smith. She was a Philadelphian that illustrated not only kid’s books but popular magazines such as Good Housekeeping (You’ll often see her illustrations as covers of old issues in flea markets today). Her 40 kids books included Little Women, Heidi, The Water Babies, etc. She almost always limited her pictures to children and their mothers, yet, seldom were the results cloying or over sentimental. Instead the viewer got fresh first rate compostions, marvellous color, and something that I can only describe as breathtakingly attractive paintings. Alas she, herself never married or had children of her own.

3. Arthur Rackham 1867-1939. A very prolific English illustrator: Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Peter Pan, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, etc.; Arthur Rackham was Victorian and Dickensian all the way. His very elaborately detailed, highly ornate, and often monochromatic (brown and black) drawings were at their best with ogres, trolls, fairies, and the like. And his recreation of these, is often so truthful that you find them not only darkly beautiful, but genuinely creepy!

4. Maxfield Parrish 1870-1966. Parrish was a prolific artist in a number of fields for 60+ years. Much of his children’s illustrations were done around the turn of the century. His painting style is realistic oils with incredible life like details that he achieved due to his technique of painting many, many layers to get it all just right. His style is unique and easily to recognize but hard to explain. It often has children or fairies in a vast panorama bathed in a golden light with intense blue shadows. Ex. Poems of Childhood or his Old King Cole mural.

5. Johnny Gruelle 1880-1938. He spent most of his early career doing cartoons (sometimes 10 a week) for newspapers and sometimes magazines. In 1918 his Raggedy Ann Stories was published with his illustrations and soon the rag dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy were major successes. A series of books followed. In 1929 he also began a full color Sunday Newspaper comic called Brutus that ran 9 years. His work stands out for its highly inventive compositions, its use of bright color in such a harmonious way, and his technical skill – what magic!

6. N.C. Wyeth 1882-1945. (He is the founder of a painting dynasty with his son Andrew Wyeth, and grandson Jamie Wyeth ) N.C. was another pupil of Howard Pyle. He’s best known for his 25+ books of illustrations for Charles Scribner’s & Sons, Classic Series. The illustrations stand out for their marvelous action made even more dramatic (and drama is a key word here) by his viewing angle, composition, use of bold color, etc. He is one of the mostlively of illustrators who seems to have followed his teachers motto – “One must live in the picture.”

7. Dr. Seuss 1904-1991. “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” His illustrations of his own offbeat stories may not be the best technically, but they are quirky classics in their own right. And it’s hard to imagine that The Cat In The Hat, black cat wearing a red and white stripped, unstructured stove-pipe hat, could have been drawn better by anyone else. (Note Bennet Cerf bet Seuss $50 he couldn’t write a book limited to 50 vocabulary words – he did with Green Eggs and Ham – Cerf still owes the $50)

Many facts from this report were found through Internet surfing – there is a wealth of knowledge on these and other illustrators on the web – check it out. *Note that Musea has many Art Guides to many of the arts on our own website, and we welcome you to come and explore them.



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