The art of Winnie the Pooh
- Credit: Printed by permission of Egmont
One honey coloured bear, a small boy and their eclectic group of friends - Winnie-the-Pooh and company are some of the most famous characters in children’s literature. Now a fascinating new book reveals how E H Shepard, who lived in Surrey for over half a century, drew and evolved the characters and brings to light original illustrations, letters and other memorabilia, much of which has never been seen before
The world of Winnie-the-Pooh was written by A. A. Milne and brought to life by E. H. Shepard’s illustrations. It proved to be a magical union that gave us one of the best loved characters ever created; a lovable bear with an affable nature whose comforting image lives with us for many years after childhood. Think of Winnie-the-Pooh and we immediately picture Pooh being elevated to the sky by his red balloon, the swarm of advancing bees, Tigger dancing or Eye-ore tramping sadly through the snow, all drawn by Shepherd with great simplicity, yet capturing the moment perfectly.
E. H. Shepard was very much a Surrey man and most of his illustrations were inspired by the countryside around his houses in Shamley Green and Guildford where he lived for over 50 years. He initially worked in outside studios, but when he moved to Long Meadow, in Guildford, with his family, space was made for him to work indoors. Wherever worked, inside or out, Shepard was a prolific artist and could turn his hand to many styles, but Pooh remains one of his most loved.
James Campbell, Shepard’s great-grandson-in-law and author of The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh: How E. H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon, says, “Shepard’s versatility is revealed through his illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh, his often tongue-in-cheek war drawings and also through the many political cartoons he submitted to Punch magazine for over 20 years. It was through Punch that he was introduced to A. A. Milne, who was not immediately convinced that the partnership would work. However, once he saw Shepard draw the bear he knew he was the right person to bring to life the vision he had for Winnie and friends. The pair met frequently to work on the books and, driven by the art editor F. H. Townsend, it was the first time that text and illustrations were seen as equal partners.”
Winnie was originally based on a bear that belonged to Milne’s son, the real Christopher Robin. But Shepard’s first drawing of the bear was too severe according to Milne, so Shepard turned to his own son’s childhood bear ‘Growler’ for inspiration and Winnie the Pooh was born. He was named Winnie after a bear cub Christopher saw in London Zoo, and Pooh was a nickname he had had for a swan in Kensington Gardens.
Shepard and the endearing bear, who valued friendship above everything else were consequently joined for life. But the union was not quite so long lasting for Milne, as Campbell explains, “There were four books in the Hundred Acre Wood series, which were written by A. A. Milne between 1923 and 1928. The first, When We Were Very Young, was published in November 1924 and the last, The House at Pooh Corner, in October 1928. Milne felt four was an appropriate number for a series so he ceased to write any more. Shepard however, continued to draw Winnie and friends for the rest of his life. They were originally black and white illustrations due to printing limitations, but when technology advanced he was required to re-produce them in colour. They were also printed in many different languages meaning some drawings had to be re-sized to fit the page. In the French edition, if you look carefully, you can see the Hundred Acre Wood gang in the picture of the Bayeux tapestry, clearly showing how much fun Shepard continued to have creating their world.”
Shepard worked as an illustrator until his death in 1976 at the grand age of 96 and no doubt the daily call upon his creative juices attributed to his long life. In his will he left his extensive archives to the University of Surrey, a testament to his fondness for the county where he had spent most of his life. The collection contains 10 decades of drawings, beginning with a drawing of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
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James Campbell, himself originally a Surrey man, has researched the collection for this wonderful book which beautifully captures the world of Winnie-the-Pooh and the man who created and illustrated him. Containing the first ever sketch of Winnie, this beautiful book includes many other drawings never been seen in pubic before. Campbell is married to Shepard’s great granddaughter, so he not only has access to new material, but he also has a deep affection for the man who penned them, and the bear itself.
“I talk to people about Winnie the Pooh on a daily basis, and whenever I mention his name, people break into a smile. There is a real resonance in the stories and we immediately recall our favourite moment, and our favourite illustration,” he reflects. “The words fit with the text, so it is easy to read and the stories flow. The characters are so incredibly real, and maybe we see a little of ourselves in one of them. Shepard’s favourite was actually Piglet, the little fellow who tried so hard to please and was so deeply loyal to his big friend the bear. All the stories are heart warming and unthreatening, calling upon themes, such as friendship, loyalty, the moral compass, honesty and trust. The things that most of us hold dear in life”.
• The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh: How E. H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon by James Campbell with foreword by Minette Shepard and Illustrations by E. H. Shepard is published by Michael O’Mara Books and is out now.