A Socialist Propaganda Poster by Walter Crane
Walter Crane was a lifelong committed socialist, espousing a number of socialist causes such as the labor movement, women's rights, legislation for the protection of children. He lent his considerable talents to popularizing the socialist movement by creating propaganda posters, imagery and even murals.
Below we have assembled a small collection of the socialist art of Walter Crane. Book illustrations were Crane's bread and butter, and he had to tailor his art to please popular tastes. When drawing for various socialist organizations, Crane's art matched his beliefs, and therefore comes closest to revealing Crane's artistic inclinations. The drawings are heavily didactic and allegorical. The human figures, usually featuring at least one full-breasted woman in a somewhat lacy dress, are allegorical figures standing in for social justice, equity, and/or the oppressed people of the world being ground down by capitalism and imperialism.
To some extent, Crane's depiction of women as tall, attractive, buxomly, and wearing loose-fitting clothes, was not just an artistic rendering of his ideal woman. It reflected one of his many pet projects. He was the Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, an organization that was founded to promote the wearing of loose-fitting clothes as a way of improving health and freeing people, especially women, from the constrains of Victorian fashion. In the West, where fashion has become extremely varied and individualized, it may be hard to understand why such an organization would be necessary. But in fact, societal norms favored extremely heavy and tight fitting clothes which restricted movement and caused health issues. In this regard, as on other topics, Crane found himself on the right side of history. The movement he espoused has become the norm and corsets and similar items of clothing have become stuff of kink or show business rather than normal day to day wear.
Walter Crane also found himself on the right side of history in regards to other socialist causes that he championed. For example, his posters advocate an end to child factory labor and universal voting rights for men and women. It is hard to believe that these things would have been considered controversial in Crane's day but without his propaganda, and the dedication of many others in the movement, these rights and legal protections might never have become enshrined and the norm.
A Comely Female Personification of Socialism is Seen Picking Blooming Flowers Labeled With Various Socialist Causes and Policies
Crane's socialist beliefs sometimes occasionally got him involved in controversies. He provided artwork included in several libertarian and anarchist publications, and also designed a mural on the front of Henderson's Book Shop in London, which specialized in anarchist literature. At the time, there had been a wave of bombings and assassinations carried out by anarchists throughout Europe and the United States. Henderson's Book Shop was nicknamed the "Bomb Shop" because of its support for militant activities.
In this Propaganda Poster by Walter Crane, a Strong Man, his back bent under the weight, is seen carrying a bushel of evil capitalist bogey men such as rent, profit and interest on loans while a sexy goddess of Labor and Socialism encourages the man to take a holiday from supporting these economic pillars - because God forbid someone should pay rent for the place they live in or interest on the money they borrow!
Crane's political activities faced the greatest backlash in 1887 when, on a promotional tour of his artwork in America, he attended an Anarchist meeting and publicly denounced the execution of two anarchists who had been convicted and sentenced to death as a result of the so-called Haymarket Affair, They Haymarket Affair had been a riot in Haymarket Square, in Chicago, in which members of the labor movement had protested in favor of an eight-hour work week. The police moved to disperse the crowd and someone used a stick of dynamite which killed seven police officers and injured many more people.
Public sentiment was very much against the perpetrators of this outrage, and Crane was vilified for his support of the condemned men. Later, Crane issued a partial apology, saying that he did not support the act of terrorism but believed that the men were wrongfully convicted. Nevertheless he faced the end of his American tour and the withdrawal of patronage from American art collectors.