It’s strange how often the thing people are remembered for isn’t what they’d like.
That was certainly the case with E H Shepard, who is certainly most famous for illustrating A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. But he’d become tired of references to his drawings of ‘that silly old bear’ long before he died at the ripe old age of 96.
E H Shepard only illustrated A A Milne’s books from 1924 onwards as an occasional sideline. But the great popularity of the character mean that these original illustrations are very valuable.
The Disneyfication of Winnie the Pooh simultaneously brought it to a wider audience and highlighted the quiet charm of the original version compared with the garish and horrible Disney vision.
But Shepard’s life as an illustrator had settled by 1906, at which point he’d illustrated editions of Aesop’s Fables, David Copperfield, and Tom Brown’s Schooldays and had his first piece published in satirical magazine Punch – a fair list for a man still in his twenties.
The two halves of E H Shepard’s career square off
Although he wasn’t to become a full staff member until after the First World War, and used his draughtsman’s hand for many things (even sketching battlefields for the Intelligence Department during the war and winning a Military Cross in the process), Punch was to be his main career.
Shepard’s style was always relatively gentle even in his satire – his cartoons wouldn’t be mistaken for Steve Bell’s, far less caused protests outside Danish embassies – but they are rich, detailed and uplifting too.
A whole exhibition of his work was held in 2006 with no sign of the maligned honey-addict to be found (perhaps he’d been left stuck down a rabbit hole somewhere). It was called, pointedly, The Man Who Hated Pooh.
That may have been going a bit far – Shepard never put it quite as strongly as that – but it’s certainly true that there’s more than one aspect to his work.
Luckily, you can compare the two here: we have both a fantastic signed image of the portly Pooh complete with a light snack, and a wry reference to coal disputes starring Mr Punch himself, also complete with autograph
Pooh & Punch image from International Autograph Auctions