*Two* Women to Know: Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone

I think there’s a lot of escape and imagination in fairy stories. — Janet Graham-Johnstone

I think there’s a lot of escape and imagination in fairy stories. — Janet Graham-Johnstone

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Frog Prince, The Snow Queen, The Hundred and One Dalmatians and numerous other fairy tales and nursery rhymes — together, Janet and Anne illustrated some of the great British children’s classics of the midcentury.

When they were growing up in World War II-era Britain, the twin sisters escaped the London blitz and spent years at a countryside estate in Northamptonshire. Their time there would later influence much of their natural illustration. While drawing the plants, flowers and animals surrounding them, their brother noted a growing closeness, describing them as “being one and a half people rather than two.”

After the war, Janet and Anne studied illustration at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. The two found work illustrating for comics, children’s magazines and BBC educational programs. In 1956, the success of their drawings in Dodie Smith’s “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” popularized the two sisters and their particular style of storytelling. They spent the next decade working together in their childhood bedroom, illustrating Greek myths, nursery rhymes, children’s Bibles, songbooks and more.

In 1976, they were even approached to design a Hans Christian Andersen theme park in Copenhagen. They planned immersive worlds, fairy tale-inspired rides and other features for child visitors.

“It will be the work of a lifetime,” Anne told the BBC.

Sadly, just three years later, Janet passed away suddenly, falling victim to smoke inhalation after a freak kitchen accident. The Andersen project fell apart and Anne, tasked with the care of their elderly mother, took on the entirety of the commission work herself. In later life, she illustrated some of the books she and her sister loved as children, like “Peter Pan” and “Heidi.”

When Anne died in 1998, her trove of books, illustrations and other artwork began selling for thousands of dollars. Today, the sisters’ work is highly prized and sought after by art collectors, librarians and fans around the world.

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