(1879 - 1976)
Ernest Shepard, who died in the fiftieth anniversary year of Winnie-the-Pooh, lived in Lodsworth in Sussex and spent his childhood years in London. He was born only a five-minute walk from the birthplace of A.A. Milne, but it would be many years before their first meeting when their names would be linked for all time to one of the most loved of all bears.
|Ernest Howard Shepard, Sussex 1971 |
Shepard's mother's father, William Lee RA, was a watercolour painter and Ernest followed in his footsteps by drawing as soon as he was able to hold a pencil. When he was ten years old, his mother died and the family moved from St. John's Wood to Hammersmith; he attended nearby St. Paul's School where, contrary to the school's reputed philistinism, he was "forced" to draw and paint.
He was a cheerful boy, fond of practical jokes and, in the current slang of the day, was described as a "giddy kipper." Kipper was a nickname which clung to him all his life. From St. Paul's, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, where he met Florence Chaplin, his first wife, whom he married following the acceptance of an oil painting by the Royal Academy.
He enlisted in the Army in the First World War, rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field. During the war years, he sent jokes about the battles to Punch. Shortly after his return from the front, he was invited to join the Punch Editorial Table, where he met E.V. Lucas, who would later introduce him to Alan Milne.
He contributed a weekly drawing to Punch for many years. He was perhaps the most-loved illustrator of "children's" books, best remembered for When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House At Pooh Corner, Kenneth Grahame's classics The Wind In The Willows, Dream Days and The Golden Age and a book which later became the favourite reading of Christopher Robin Milne, Bevis, the Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies.
Shepard's autobiographical books, Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn From Life (1962) are joyfully written and present a superb picture of England's upper middle classes. His drawings in over fifty books frequently poked fun at social contretemps and domestic perplexity, especially where children were involved. His illustrations continued to show extraordinary vigour and vivacity throughout his long working life.
In his eighty-ninth year, he visited old friends and relations in Cape Town, Durban, Perth, Sydney and Tasmania, returning through Tahiti so that he could look at Gauguin relics.
In the same year, he completed some new Pooh drawings for a revised edition published by Dutton in the United States; these remained lost and forgotten until dicsovered some years later by the now President of Dutton Children's books, Christopher Franceschelli, in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
In the early days before the First World War, Milne had described Shepard as "perfectly hopeless" as an artist, but the years between had fortunately made him realise the exceptional brilliance of Shepard's line drawings and to show his delight and pleasure he inscribed Shepard's own copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with this 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 they they are my own,
Will welcome me to heaven."
In his ninetieth year, Ernest Shepard donated 300 of his preliminary sketches for the Pooh drawings to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they were exhibited in 1969 -- an event attended by the original Pooh -- and Peter Dennis!
These drawings, since exhibited in many galleries in Britain, as well as in Holland and Australia, are now published as The Pooh Sketch Book, edited by Brian Sibley. Apart from the small exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1969, England has still not considered Shepard important enough to mount a major exhibition in his honour. But Japan, realising the great talent of this major artist, mounted a retrospective exhibition of his works in the mid 1980s.
In his later years, Shepard was heard to describe Pooh as "that silly old bear" and to resent his close identification with Milne's books, but the collaboration of these two giants produced immortal works that have lived in millions of homes throughout the world.
Interestingly, Shepard's sketches of Pooh were not based on Christopher Robin's bear, but on Growler, the much-loved bear belonging to Graham, the artist's son. Shepard's granddaughter, Minette, took the tired and worn Growler with her to Canada during the war, where, sadly, he lost a battle with a Scottie dog in a Montreal garden. Piglet had suffered a similar fate years before in an English orchard, but lived to tell the tale!
On November 16th, 2000, the Pavilion Gallery Museum in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, with help and encouragement from Hartley T. Richardson, the City of Winnipeg, the Canadian Federal Government, the Canadian Cultural Board, and many 'Winnie'-pegians paid £124,250 for the only known oil painting of Pooh by Shepard. This painting was originally created in the 1930s for the teashop 'Pooh Corner' in Bristol and was previously sold at Christie's for £2,000 in 1997. The oil painting had been exhibited some years ago in a retrospective exhibition of the works of Ernest Shepard in Japan. It is intended that the picture will hang in the future Winnie-the-Pooh Museum in Assiniboine Park, where it is planned to recreate the 100 Aker Wood and the original Poohsticks Bridge, first built in 1907.
For over half a century, the Shepard family lived in Guildford, Surrey. In 1974, Ernest Shepard presented a large collection of his original works, manuscripts, letters, diaries and memorabilia to the University of Surrey. The Shepard Archive at the University is curated by Arthur C. Chandler, whose book 'E. H. Shepard The Man Who Drew Pooh' was published by Jaydem Books in 2000.
P.S. On Shepard's ninetieth birthday in 1969, he received a Greetings Telegram from the Master Gunner. He said of this "That's the proudest thing I could possibly have received, that I should be remembered by the Gunners that I served in the First World War. The Master Gunner at that time was General Sir Roderick McLeod, K.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C. The wonderful serendiptiy for me is that I was Shorthand Writer to General McLeod when he was Director of Military Operations at the War Office in London between 1953 and 1956. We are such stuff as dreams are made on.