Ernest Howard Shepard was born at 55 Springfield Road, St John’s Wood, London, on 10 December 1879, the youngest of the three children of the architect and amateur watercolourist, Henry Dunkin Shepard, and his wife, Jessie, the daughter of the watercolourist, William Lee. He was initially educated at St John’s Wood Preparatory School. Then, following his mother’s death in 1890, and the family’s move to Hammersmith, he attended Colet Court School and St Paul’s School. He was encouraged in his early talent for drawing at St Paul’s, and took extra classes at Heatherley’s School of Art. In 1897, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, and studied there until 1902, winning the Landseer Scholarship, the British Institution Prize and other awards.
Receiving much pleasure from his work as an oil painter, Shepard exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1901, while he was living at 52 Glebe Place, Chelsea.
In 1904, his painting, Followers, was bought from the RA by Durban Art Gallery. In the same year, he married fellow artist, Florence Chaplin, the granddaughter of the engraver, Ebenezer Landells, one of the founders of Punch. They settled at Arden Cottage, Shamley Green, near Guildford, Surrey, and had two children, Graham and Mary, both of whom would become illustrators. (Mary famously illustrated P L Travers’ series of books featuring the character, Mary Poppins.)
Shepard developed a great interest in the illustrators of the 1860s and, while still a student, began to contribute cartoons and illustrations to various publications. He illustrated books from the turn of the century and, fulfilling a particular hope, had his first cartoon accepted by Punch in 1906.
Shepherd served as an officer in the Royal Artillery during the First World War, and saw action in France, Belgium and Italy, being awarded the Military Cross in 1917. During this time, he kept several sketchbooks and worked up some of these drawings for memorable inclusion in Punch.
Shepard was elected to the Punch table in 1921 and made good friends with both Frank Reynolds, the magazine’s new art editor, and the writer E V Lucas. It was Lucas who introduced Shepard to A A Milne, thus initiating several immortal projects, most obviously When We Were Very Young (1924) and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Shepard also illustrated Lucas’s writing in Playtime and Company (1925) and As the Bee Sucks (1937), his own selection of Lucas’s essays. His range as an illustrator could encompass such historical works as Everybody’s Pepys (1926) and such children’s classics as Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1931). By 1926, he was holding solo shows of his illustrations at the Sporting Gallery, Covent Garden.
Shepard succeeded Leonard Raven-Hill as second political cartoonist on Punch in 1935, and produced some of his most impressive cartoons during the Second World War. He succeeded Bernard Partridge as principal cartoonist in 1945, but handed over the position to Leslie Illingworth four years later. However, he remained with Punch until 1953. Continually sketching and reworking, he still managed to retain the appearance of spontaneity in his finished work, and excelled at the depiction of both movement and character.
Shepherd’s first wife, Florence, had died suddenly in 1927. In 1944, he married Norah Carroll, a nurse at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. In 1955, they moved to ‘Woodmancote’, Lodsworth, Sussex.
Late in life, Shepard turned to himself as a subject and illustrated his autobiographical reminiscences, Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn from Life (1961). An exhibition devoted to his illustrations to Winnie-the-Pooh was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1969. Having received various honours, including the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1958, 1962, 1963) and the university of Southern Mississippi Silver Medallion (1970), he was awarded an OBE in 1972. He died at Midhurst, West Sussex, on 24 March 1976. His last picture was exhibited posthumously at the Royal Academy in that year.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Museum and the V&A; and the British Cartoon Archive, the University of Kent (Canterbury) and the Shepard Archive, the University of Surrey (Guildford).
Arthur R Chandler, The Story of E H Shepard: the man who drew Pooh, West Sussex: Jaydem, 2001;
Rawle Knox (ed), The Work of E H Shepard, London: Methuen, 1979;
C A Parker (rev), ‘Shepard, Ernest Howard (1879–1976)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 50, pages 230-231
A A Milne, E H Shepard and ... E V Lucas
The coupling of A A Milne and E H Shepard seems one of the most inevitable, even immortal, in the history of illustrated literature. However, author and artist were never very close, and it took E V Lucas, mutual friend and fellow Punch contributor, to recognise the fit between their talents and so draw them together. It was as a result of his perspicacity that they collaborated on When We Were Very Young (1924) and subsequent entertainments, including the classic Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). If Lucas is now forgotten, his writing was once much enjoyed, and his own verse, for children and adults, also fired Shepard to produce distinguished images during this highpoint in his career. A decade later, in 1937, Shepard would acknowledge his admiration of, and affection for, Lucas by selecting and illustrating a number of his light essays under the title As the Bee Sucks. It was a timely homage, for Lucas died in the following year.
In the Company of Mr Punch
Edward Verrall Lucas (1868-1938) was a prolific and wide-ranging journalist, becoming well known through his contributions to Punch. He was encouraged at Punch by Owen Seaman, being elected to the Table in 1904, and two years later deputising for Seaman when he became editor. In turn, he encouraged Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956), a young writer who, by late in 1906, had become Seaman’s assistant.
Ernest Howard Shepard contributed his first drawing to Punch in 1907, and was intially nurtured by the periodical’s first designated art editor, Frederick Henry Townsend. However, his involvement was gradual, so that Lucas and Milne would know Shepard’s work long before they knew him in person. On more than one occasion, Milne expressed doubts about that work to Townsend, asking ‘What on earth do you see in this man? He’s perfectly hopeless’. Townsend replied, ‘You wait’ (see Ann Thwaite, A A Milne: his life, London: Faber and Faber, 1990, page 252).
Ironically, it was Milne and not Shepard who eventually proved unsuited to the environment of Punch. During the First World War, Milne served in the army, being replaced as assistant editor by Algernon Locker, an elderly journalist of great experience who had once employed E V Lucas. Seaman considered him such an excellent substitute, both in his standard of work and in his temperament, that he encouraged Milne, on his return in 1919, to concentrate on writing plays, and contribute occasionally to Punch. However, their basic difference was one of politics, Seaman considering Milne ‘an unpatriotic Radical’ (see Thwaite, 1990, page 192). And this despite the fact that Milne’s wife was Seaman’s god-daughter. Milne’s only real ally at Punch was the similarly ‘radical’ Lucas.
When Shepard was elected to the Punch Table, two years later, in 1921, he too was befriended by Lucas, as well as by the new art editor, Frank Reynolds. At the time, Lucas was at his most influential, not only as deputy editor of Punch, but as a director, then chairman, of the publishing house of Methuen.
Children’s Verse: When We Were Very Young and Playtime and Company
Lucas continued to encourage Milne after he had left the staff of Punch, in 1923 expressing the concern that Milne needed to structure his time in order to succeed as a writer. Milne wrote in response that his ‘indolence was more apparent than real’ (see Thwaite, 1990, page 251), and then sent, as proof, a number of poems for children, which would eventually be collected as When We Were Very Young. Lucas immediately recognised their potential, and suggested that they be illustrated by Shepard, an artist whose work had developed greatly since it had been originally criticised by Milne. Though Punch first published three of the poems without illustration, on 9 January 1924, it presented Puppy & I and subsequent pieces with Shepard’s drawings. The vivacious character of the images, circling and invading the text, initially disturbed Seaman, but was defended by Reynolds, and soon appreciated by Milne. So the poems and illustrations developed into a substantial series and were issued together by Methuen late in the year, on 6 November. The book sold out in its initial impression of the very first day, and soon became an international success, even a craze. And though it was reviewed as a children’s book – the first that Milne had written – it was as much appreciated by adults.
However memorable the verses of Milne, Shepard’s illustrations undoubtedly contributed greatly to the book’s success. This was demonstrated not only by the further collaborations undertaken by Milne and Shepard, but by the children’s verse that others wrote with Shepard in mind, most immediately by Lucas himself. And if the evidence of Playtime and Company, suggests that Lucas was a less confident, less melodious versifier than Milne, Shepard treated his words with equivalent respect, and produced results as equally spirited as those for When We Were Very Young.
Shepard has possibly been the finest illustrative draughtsman of children to date, able to capture much of their youthful personalities through the poses and movements of their vulnerable yet resilient long-limbed bodies. He discovered in Lucas’s verses many appropriate opportunities to rehearse this genius. So he represented those bodies in a range of activities from writing letters to playing cricket, and also dressed in an international variety of costume. Occasionally, and perhaps unconsciously, he drew parallels between the innocence, instinct and freedom of children and those of animals, especially dogs. While, more frequently and intentionally, he established physical distinctions between children and adults regarding size, weight and agility, so echoing the more experiential distinctions implied by the text. His illustrations had a strongly cumulative effect in itemising aspects of the juvenile vision, and so providing greater evidence of the substance and unity of the vision than did the text. But it is not inappropriate that the illustrations should direct a reading of the book, for it is surely what Lucas expected, and desired, in writing words to be completed by pictures.
Light Essays: As the Bee Sucks
The reputation of E V Lucas rested more securely on his essays than on his verses. It is therefore unsurprising that Shepard should have concentrated exclusively on short prose pieces in compiling As the Bee Sucks (1937) as a representative, if personal, selection of Lucas’s work, to be published by Methuen. As a young journalist, Lucas had translated the stories of Guy de Maupassant in order to develop his literary style, and had soon begun to model himself on the essayist Charles Lamb, even editing his works and writing his biography. He chose the brief, light essay as an ideal vehicle for a talent for communicating enthusiasms, and so educating as he entertained. To the critical reader, his relaxed articulation of a broad range of topics could seem at once pedantic and superficial, and so it was for a later generation of contributors to Punch. But to a reader such as Shepard, seeking stimulation in order to produce visual images, they were sufficiently diverting and diverse. His Shakespearean title, As the Bee Sucks, quoting Ariel from The Tempest, suggested that a generous approach would yield from the essays as much pleasure for the reader as they had originally given the writer.
The illustrations from As the Bee Sucks that are included here represent four very different types of essay: a form of artistic appreciation, a fictive narrative, a piece of advice and a reminiscence. They certainly mark the versatility of the author, in contrasting the past and the present, the historic and the anecdotal. So an airy full-page drawing of J M W Turner enjoying a sunset gives way to a dense vignette of a burglar breaking into a house. While the text of Playtime and Company demanded a unified visual interpretation, that of As the Bee Sucks could, and probably should, survive the opposite. It is as precisely in acting as a showcase for Shepard’s manifold graphic talents that the volume worked, and works as a defence and homage of E V Lucas.