The youngest in a family of four girls, Rie Cramer was born and raised in the Dutch East Indies, more specifically in Java, Indonesia, in 1887. Her father, Henry Cramer, was often absent, as he was with the "packet service", traveling on ships with cargo. Her mother, Elisabeth Frederika Schenck, took Rie and her sisters back to The Netherlands when she was 9 years old, and she attended an art academy in The Hague, the third largest city in the country, from 1905 to 1907.
At 17, she left a folder of her work -- drawings and rhymes -- with a publisher, W. de Haan, in Utrecht. They loved it, and she got a contract in 1906 to do the book, Of Girls and Boys. She did a sequel a year later.
"In contrast to the then usual moralistic and educational children's books were these playful books about domestic life and the world of the child. The illustrations were not only informative, but appealed to the imagination and made the book much more accessible to children than the usual children's literature."*
Rie went on to illustrate books for other Dutch authors, like Nienke Hichtum and Anna Sutorius, as well as the classics, like Grimm's Fairy Tales and Alice in Wonderland. She was heavily influenced by the art of other illustrators from around the world, like Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. She worked with a dark black outline, and then filled in with watercolors.
Rie was married two times, both ending in divorce, and she had a passionate, life-changing affair with married art critic Albert Plasschaert that ended in 1919. She had no children. But she lived for her art, going on to make dolls, ceramics, and even write plays and novels under a pseudonym. She also wrote for a children's magazine, Sunshine, in the 1920s and 30s.
World War II was especially difficult for Rie. In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. Two of Rie's pre-war novels, She,We, and You and The Land of Promise were banned for their anti-Nazi message. She worked against the Nazis, hiding refugees and writing poetry, called Verses of Resistance. Through it all, though, she continued to illustrate children's books. After the war, her fame spread to Britain and beyond, and she wrote a series of children's radio shows, of which 42 episodes aired in 1954 and 1955.
|The Little Mermaid|
Rie's later years were spent in Mallorca, living with friends. According to her, it was the best time of her life. She wrote several books about Mallorca, and her love for cats. She was crazy about her cats, and even posed with one of her cats for her passport photo. In 1971, she moved back to the Netherlands. Rie died at the age of 89 in 1977.
Critics have said that Rie neglected part of society with her art, focusing too much on the whimsy and beauty, and not enough on the realness of the world during the time she worked. However, her lighthearted, beautiful art speaks more to me because the fantasy she put into every illustration. Rie captured the most important element of childhood in her work -- imagination and fun.