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Ernest Howard Shepard was born in 1879 in London, the son of an
architect. His maternal grandfather was a water color painter, William
Lee, R.W.S. His family, especially his father, encouraged his artwork
from a very young age. He began drawing as soon as he could even hold a
pencil. He enjoyed drawing many topics, but battle scenes were a
particular favorite. His drawings from the young age of seven and eight
show much detail and sophistication. "These childhood sketches are
amazingly powerful in action and character." (Senick, 1992, 174) The
Shepard family attended many cultural events, such as concerts, the
theater, museums, and private viewings. Ernest Shepard recorded these
events in a diary of drawings and sketches, many of which have been
preserved (Moritz, 1963, 382). Shepard's book Drawn from Memory
described his happy childhood as a seven year old in Victorian London,
including such quaint memories as the messenger man and the lamplighter
(Shepard, 1957). His mother became ill and died in 1890, and Ernest was
impacted deeply at the young age of eleven.
Shepard attended schools in London, including St. John's Wood
Preparatory School. At age fourteen, he entered the reputable St.
Paul's School, where his artistic talent came to the attention of the
faculty. At their encouragement, he applied for and was granted a
scholarship at the Royal Academy Schools, specializing in painting and
sculpture. He studied there from 1897 to 1902, during which time he set
up a small studio with another student. In 1901, he also displayed two
of his works at the Academy's summer exhibition. Shepard met his wife
and fellow artist at the Royal Academy, and they were married in 1904.
Just prior to his marriage, his first oil painting was sold. Times were
somewhat financially difficult, but Shepard managed to sell his black
and white drawings to illustrated papers and do some book illustrating.
Between 1900 and 1914, Shepard illustrated seven books, including David
Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1903) and Tom Brown's Schooldays by
Thomas Hughes (circa 1904). During this period, Shepard was influenced
by two artists in particular, Frank Dicksee and Edwin Abbey, both
friends of the family. Above all, they encouraged him and instilled in
him the necessity of "the Victorian value of hard work" (Knox, 1980,
60). Shepard struggled and persisted through many rejections, but
continued to send in several ideas a week to Punch, the British humor
magazine. "The jokes are so bad that we are glad to be spared those
that were rejected or lost on bicycle trips" (Knox, 1980, 70). Finally,
in 1907, two of his drawings were placed in Punch, and he soon became a
regular contributor of cartoons. Shepard was also an admirer of Sir
John Tenniel's imaginative fanciful artistic style (Alice in
Wonderland), though quite different from his own. Interestingly,
Shepard has often been compared to Tenniel, and is "usually
acknowledged as the most beloved English children's artist to have
emerged since Tenniel" (Senick, 1992, 168). In addition, Shepard was
influenced by Arthur Boyd Houghton for his insightfulness and use of
white. But Shepard held a special place for artist Charles Keene, a
Punch cartoonist whose pen and ink drawings made Keene "the greatest of
them all" in Shepard's eyes (Knox, 1980, 64).
Shepard's son, Graham, was born in 1907, and his daughter, Mary, in
1909. He delighted in drawing his children and his wife, often using
them as subjects. Shepard preferred using models for most of his
drawings. He is known for his "delicate and economical line" (Moritz,
1963, 383), with which he was able to clearly express personality, as
well as action.
Reflecting superior draftsmanship, attention to detail, and a use of
line that was clear and precise without being heavy, Shepard's pictures
are praised for capturing the features, personalities, and moods of
both children and anthropomorphic animals (Senick, 1992, 168).
Ernest Shepard joined the Royal Artillery during World War I, and was
promoted to captain in 1917, before being discharged as a major in
1919. His brother, Cyril, was killed during the Battle of the Somme in
1916 (Fuller, 1963, 183), the first of several deaths of loved ones.
Following the war, Shepard continued his connections with Punch,
becoming part of its senior staff in 1921 (Moritz, 1963, 383). He also
worked for The Sketch following the war (Fuller, 1963, 183).
A. A. Milne. Winnie the Pooh. London: Muthuen, 1926. p. 5
Ernest Shepard is best known, however, for his work as a children's
book illustrator. It was through Punch that Shepard was introduced to
A. A. Milne, the author who made him famous. Shepard illustrated
Milne's four Pooh books known worldwide: When We Were Very Young
(1924), Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), Now We Are Six (1927), and The House at
Pooh Corner (1928). When Shepard was first recommended to Milne as an
illustrator, he was quite skeptical, saying, "What on earth do you see
in that man? He's perfectly hopeless!" (Moses, 1996, 3) But Milne later
invited Shepard to visit his home to draw sketches of his son,
Christopher Robin, and his stuffed animals, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Eeyore,
Rawle Knox. The Works of E. H. Shepard. New York: Schocken Books, 1980, page 127.
Although Milne initially disliked Shepard's art, he realized that
Shepard was the perfect illustrator for the verses and stories about
his small son and his toys. Working from the original models, from his
son Graham and his teddy bear Growler, and from the settings around
Milne's homes in London and Sussex, Shepard created illustrations that
are acknowledged as essential to the success of Milne's works for
children; the New York Times Book Review notes that 'Mr. Milne should
go down on his knees every night and thank God for having sent him an
illustrator so perfectly attuned to the spirit of his task as Mr.
Shepard has proved himself to be.' (Senick, 1992, 168-169)
Rawle Knox. The Works of E. H. Shepard. New York: Schocken Books, 1980, page 117.
Milne recognized his good fortune in the talented illustrator, and
autographed Shepard's copy with a witty verse suggesting he decorate
his tomb with pictures of Pooh and Piglet (Knox, 1980, 112).
When Shepard's wife Florence died unexpectedly in 1927, he immersed
himself in his work and continued to be very productive. Between 1920
and 1940, Shepard illustrated a total of 34 books, among them his best.
During this time, he established a "positive professional relationship"
with another author who was to become significant in Shepard's career
(Senick, 1992, 169). He illustrated Kenneth Grahame's autobiographical
work The Golden Age (1928) and Dream Days (1930). In 1931, Grahame's
The Wind in the Willows was published, and he created the famous Toad,
Rat, and Mole that have become familiar to so many. Much later, in
1959, Shepard used water colors for eight of the full-page
illustrations (Senick, 1992, 179). He also did color plates for The
World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin in 1957 and 1958,
respectively (Knox, 1980, 254).
Another family death occurred in 1943, when his son Graham's ship was
sunk during World War II. He was very private in his time of grief, and
later that year was wed to his second wife, Norah (Knox, 1980, 204).
Shepard continued to be a productive illustrator for several more
decades, and authored several books, as well. After the success of
Drawn from Memory (1957), he wrote and illustrated another period of
his life, from the death of his mother to his first marriage, in Drawn
from Life (1961). He wrote and illustrated two children's books later
in his life, Ben and Brock (1965) and Betsy and Joe (1966). From 1969
to 1974, he also completed full color editions of his four most
successful books, three by Milne, and The Wind in the Willows (Knox,
1980, 254). He continued to draw until his death in 1976, when one of
England's greatest illustrators was lost.
In 1969, for Shepard's 90th birthday, he donated 300 original drawings
to London's Victoria and Albert Museum. Included in these were the
original sketches for Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. The
University of Surrey contains the best collection of Ernest Shepard's
personal papers, and the University of Kent holds many of the original
Punch political cartoons. Some of Shepard's paintings from when he was
a gunner in the war from 1916 to 1919 are held at the Imperial War
Museum (Knox, 1980, 252). His inimitable work has been exhibited in
numerous galleries around the world since 1901. Winnie-the-Pooh and its
off-shoots have been translated into twenty different languages,
including Latin (Moses, 1996, 3). Since his death in 1976, there has
been still another Pooh revival, including cook books, party books,
exerpts of books, alphabet and number books, pop-up and press-out
books, revolving picture books, and even problem solving books
(according to Pooh, of course), all crediting the original illustrator,
Ernest Shepard (see Bibliography for a sample). Numerous web sites have
been established advertising Pooh books and book/toy combinations,
using Shepard's illustrations. One may take a tour of Milne and
Shepard's infamous 100-Aker Wood and link up to twenty places to visit
on the website http://www.worldkids.net/pooh/100aker.html. Or one may
visit Kanga's House or learn Winnie-the-Pooh's 70th birthday song at
similar sites. One may still walk into a department store today and see
Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in countless products, from stuffed
animals to sweatshirts to blankets and even wallpaper. Ernest Shepard
has left an indelible mark on the world with his illustrations and will
live on in the hearts of all of us forever.(Bowden, Jane, ed.
Contemporary authors, Vol. 65-68, 1st Revision. Detroit: Gale Research
Co., 1977, 539.)
Bowden, Jane, ed. Contemporary authors, Vol. 65-68, 1st Revision. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1977, 539.
Commire, Anne. Something about the author, Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research, 1972, 191-194.
Commire, Anne. Something about the author, Vol. 33. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983, 197-208.
Fuller, Muriel, ed. More junior authors. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1963.
Knox, Rawle, ed. The work of E. H. Shepard. New York: Schocken Books, 1980.
Milne, A. A. "Introducing Shepard," in By way of introdution. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1929, 33-37.
Moritz, Charles, ed. Current biography yearbook 1963. New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1963, 382-384.
Moritz, Charles, ed. Current biography yearbook 1976. New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1976, obituary, 476.
Moses, Tim. "Press release: Winnie-the-Pooh celebrates his 70th Birthday!" New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1996.
Senick, Gerard J. Children's literature review, Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1992, 168-191.
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