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Winnie The Pooh

poohpigletThe name of Ernest Howard Shepard is inseparable from the wonderful characters he created. For A A Milne’s 1926 publication of Winnie-the-Pooh, his illustrations of Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore captured the imaginations of both children and the adults who read the stories to them. They are intrinsically linked with his illustrations and he is just as fondly remembered for the liveliness of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger in Kenneth Grahame’s tale of The Wind in the Willows.

Shepard was born in St John’s Wood in London on 10 December 1879; his father was an architect and his maternal grandfather, William Lee RA, a watercolour painter. The young Ernest showed some promise in drawing while at St Paul’s School and was a cheerful boy who was fond of pranks, earn- ing himself the lifelong nickname ‘Kipper’, from the popular slang of the time ‘giddy kipper’. He pursued his artistic studies at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools. This is where he met his first wife, Florence Eleanor Chaplin. They moved to Shamley Green in Guildford, Surrey, in 1904, where he continued developing his career as an illustrator and cartoonist, producing works for editions of Aesop’s Fables, David Copperfield and Tom Brown’s Schooldays.


Working for Punch in 1907 gave him the opportunity to further develop his formidable skills. He is described by Edward Hodnett in Five Centuries of English Book Illustration, Scholar Press, 1988, as “the only follower of Hugh Thomson who equalled him in lightness of spirit and mastery of that obdurate instrument, the pen.”


Life was changed by the start of World War I. After receiving a commission in the Royal Artillery in 1915, Shepard very shortly after- wards started working for the Intelligence Department, sketching the combat area within view of his battery position. He rose to the rank of Major and, in 1918, was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field. But this war, which proved so catastrophic for so many, did not interrupt his contributions to Punch; he became a regular staff cartoonist in 1921 and was promoted to chief artist there in 1945 through 1949.


Shepard’s association with Milne can also be linked to Punch; a staff writer, Edward Lucas, recommend- ed him to the author but Milne was not totally convinced. He decided to give him a trial run with his 1924 publication When We Were Very Young in which “Teddy Bear” was the first appearance of Winnie- the-Pooh. This character was originally named “Mr Edward Bear” by Christopher Robin Milne. Shepard based his character drawing on “Growler”, a stuffed bear owned by his own son. Sadly, Growler no longer exists, having been given to his granddaughter Minnie Hunt, taken to Canada and subsequently destroyed by a neighbour’s dog.

 

Those initial reservations were set aside and Milne went on to insist that Shepard illustrate Winnie- the-Pooh. Realising his illustrator’s contribution to the book’s success, Milne arranged for Shepard to receive a share of his royalties. He also inscribed a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with the following personal verse:


“When I am gone, Let Shepard decorate my tomb, And put (if there is room) Two pictures on the stone: Piglet from page a hundred and eleven, And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)... And Peter, thinking that they are my own, Will welcome me to Heaven.”


Shepard wrote two autobiogra- phies: Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn from Life (1962) and both his children, Graham and Mary, went on to become illustrators. With all the successes Shep- ard enjoyed in his long life, he eventually grew to resent “that silly old bear” and felt that these illustrations overshadowed his other work. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London put together an exhibition of 300 of Shepard’s preliminary sketches of Pooh, which opened in 1969 when he was 90 years old.


In 1972, the same year he received the Order of the British Empire, Shepard gave his personal collection of papers and illustrations to the University of Surrey; these now form the E.H. Shepard Archive. He passed away in the 50th anniversary year of Winnie- the-Pooh on 24 March 1976. The price of original illustrations has generally seen heightened awareness in recent years with original illustrations for A A Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh particularly realising astonishing results in auction. Notably, the sale at Sotheby’s in late 2008 saw estimates being left way behind the final hammer prices, with one work, showing Pooh and Piglet walking together, achieving a record total sales price of over £115,000. The images shown in this article are all of works that are or have been in the stock of Books Illustrated, a limited company based in Salisbury, England, who specialise in the original artwork of published artists. Established in 1999, they are the largest specialist dealers outside London and they cover the art of both classic and contemporary illustrators. They’ll attend one of the premium art and antique fairs in South Africa in the near future so do get in touch with them if the fine art of illustration is of particular interest to you. www.booksillustrated.com.

 

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