Tuesday 10 April 2012

Added Value; Things found in books - Artist who said Pooh to a fortune

Newspaper cutting; Saturday spot by Benny Green dated 12th May, 1979.

Who is the most popular British artist of the Twentieth century? Not the trendiest, or the most successful, or the richest, or the best, but the most popular. If you were to conduct a census to find out whose drawings are in the most homes in this country, you would quickly discover that it was no race.

The winner by an enormous margin would be a gentleman called Ernest Howard Shepard, who died in 1976 at the age of 97. He may not be known by name to many of the people who enjoy his work, but his actual drawings are as instantly recognisable as pillar boxes or thunder and lightning.

Twice in his life Shepard struck gold, once when he was hired to illustrated the Winnie the Pooh stories, and again when he did the same for Toad of Toad Hall and his friends.I believe that Pooh in particular needed Shepard because without the drawings, some of the tales tended to get a bit sickly-wickly.

The world, of course, had its revenge by taking hold of some of the Christopher Robin poems and changing them into recitations which would raise a blush in a Rugby League after-match communal bath. And yet there must be something about those little rhymes.

It is interesting that one of the most popular of all the Muppet recordings is the one where Kermit sings that curious little song about sitting halfway up or half-way down the stairs.

Before he died, Shepard performed a charitable deed of pure saintliness. By the time he reached 90, he had amassed more than 300 original sketches of his animal friends, and when I say that one of them changed hands for nearly £2,000, you don't have to be Albert Einstein to realise that the old boy was sitting on a gold mine. However, when you get as old as that, sitting on a gold mine, or indeed sitting on anything at all, can be very uncomfortable, so Shepard, instead of flogging his life's work, donated everything to the nation.

This week at the Holburne Museum in Bath, that work goes on public exhibition, including several of the drawings he did to illustrate his own book of childhood memories, which brings me to a new point.
In that autobiography, "Drawn from memory," there is a sketch of some firemen on a horse-drawn engine dashing to put out a great blaze. This turned out to be the famous fire at Whiteley's department store in Westbourne Grove, which took place in 1886. That drawing of the firemen and the horses, which is really very good, was done by Shepard at the time, which means that he was then seven years old!

The article goes on to talk about the Disney films and spin-offs and ends by reminding us that Tigger claims to be able to climb trees, eat acorns, swallow thistles, swim rivers, and do all sorts of things he can't really do at all!

It's interesting to note that when this piece was written Ernest Shepard's work was selling for a couple of thousand pounds.  While in more recent times, original drawings have realised record prices, especially those of Winnie the Pooh which now sell for tens of thousands of pounds.

Found in; Darkie the life story of a pony published by Country Life in 1950.

***Please note*** the exhibition mentioned in the newspaper article took place in May 1979. 


  1. WOW! That is just the best story. I would love to be in Bath to see that exhibit. Are you going? I hope so. What a nice "things found in books" this article is.

  2. barbaraannefisher10 April 2012 at 14:36

    Sadly, no but if I could go back in time I would. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to go back and snap up some of his artwork while it was still (almost) affordable?

  3. C. Lee McKenzie10 April 2012 at 15:34

    This must be my morning for finding delightful blog posts. I was just over at outonalimb who you must visit today. Really.

    Your clipping about Sheppard's bequest to England was lovely. It's never about the money; the problem is we often don't realize it. Thank you for this. You don't happen to know if his work is in a permanent collection somewhere, do you?

  4. Oh my, I never knew about this man, but how I love his work. Good for him. It never is about the money, if your mind is in the right place.

  5. Wonderful story, what a generous man! I have yet to find anything unusual in any of the books I've bought, except cookbooks where the owner has written little notes. We did find a charming love letter from around 1940 in some embroidery patterns.

  6. What a great find!

  7. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 09:40

    I love finding new blogs so will be paying a visit to outonalimb as soon as I’ve left this reply, thank you for sharing.
    There is a permanent collection of material from The Wind in the Willows at the Henley on Thames river and rowing museum, http://www.britainsfinest.co.uk/museums/museums.cfm/searchazref/80001270RIVA
    I’m sure there must be a permanent display of Winnie the Pooh artworks somewhere. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

  8. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 11:36

    Hi Donna, How true that is.

  9. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 11:51

    It’s strange how these things turn up. It can be weeks with nothing and then several all in one day, or even in one box of books. We usually find things in boxes bought at auction, I think people pack them away and forget all about what might be inside. Do you collect embroider patterns? I was looking at a big pile of dressmaking patters at the Bath and West flea market. Some of them were very pretty but also expensive, and as I don’t know anything about them, I didn't buy any – but I wanted to!

  10. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 11:53

    Hello Angela, It’s such a thrill when something interesting turns up, something with a little history always makes my day. Thanks for calling in.

  11. How terrific! It is always exciting to find a surprise- and I love that it had history behind it. I never knew all of the facts shared from the article. What a fortunate find!

  12. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 17:04

    Hi Jess, I often find bits of old newspaper, but they are usually advertising something so finding an article was a real bonus. I will be sharing another article next week.

  13. What an interesting article Barbara - and what a wonderful thing to do - so nice to know that Shepard's work was donated in this way instead of being scattered around individual collections. I'm surprised with the tremendous popularity of Pooh (worldwide!) that there is no well known permanent exhibit. You would think that there would be tremendous public interest in something like this.

    In Dublin there is an annual exhibit of some of Turner's work donated at the time of his death with clear instructions that it is to be shown once a year at the end of January when the year is at its gloomiest to brighten people's lives - I go each year to see it (its free in the National Art Gallery) and think that was a fabulous gesture.

  14. barbaraannefisher11 April 2012 at 20:06

    Hello Sharon, there probably is a permanent exhibition somewhere, I just don’t know where. I have a feeling that a lot of his artwork is kept at the Victoria and Albert museum, but I don’t know for sure. If anyone has any information, please leave a comment.

    I would love to visit the Turner exhibition but will have to wait until 2014 as we are spending Christmas and the New Year (2013) with our son and family in Australia. We booked the flights last week – Yippee!

  15. Michelle Yardley12 April 2012 at 03:07

    Nice find Barbara.

    When I find or see finds in books like this I wonder why the person clipped the article from the newspaper and kept it. Was the article about them, did they own the book at one time or where they a family member, friend, neighbour or fan?
    Very interesting.

  16. Thanks! I was about to book a trip to Bath to see the exhibition! So glad you clarified that. I do love his drawings.

  17. barbaraannefisher12 April 2012 at 14:32

    I like to think they kept the article as a reminder to visit the exhibition. I hope it returns to Bath one day as I would love to see it. Thanks for calling in and leaving some comments.

  18. barbaraannefisher12 April 2012 at 14:32

    Don't forget to pick me up on your way! :)

  19. What a real treasure! I recently acquired some art books which were filled with clippings with ads for art exhibitions. They were almost as interesting as the books themselves.

  20. barbaraannefisher15 April 2012 at 09:00

    Hi Jess, how exciting. I love finding things like that especially when they have some kind of connection with the book.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx