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 Ernest Howard Shepard  (1879 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: children's book illustrations

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Ad Code: 2
Ernest Howard Shepard
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

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, and Piglet.

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  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.)

Works Cited
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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