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EH Shepard: The Man Who Drew Pooh

Despite being a political cartoonist for "Punch" magazine for five decades, EH Shepard is best known for his delicately innocent drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh.

"Punch" cartoon of Clement Atlee, 1932
A cartoon of Clement Atlee from "Punch", 1932
© TopFoto.co.uk
A prolific artist, Ernest Howard Shepard started as a contributor to Punch in 1907 before landing a job as a staff political cartoonist in 1921 and working his way up to first cartoonist by 1945. Read more about Punch magazine here

It was while at Punch that he was asked to illustrate children’s verses written by AA Milne. Milne, however, wasn’t convinced about Shepard’s style - which he had described as “perfectly hopeless”. Not surprisingly, Shepard was nervous about illustrating the Punch extracts and Milne's book of poems When We Were Very Young (1924) but the author was delighted with the results. The book was an instant success.

Shepard's trepidation is detailed in Three Cheers For Pooh by Brian Sibley (Egmont): "It is anxious work making pictures of an author's written words, and when I took my first sketches to show Alan Milne, I had some nervous moments while he studied them. It was clear he was pleased and, when he had seen them all, he said, 'They are fine, go right ahead.' Then added, 'There will be about fifty altogether, you know.'" Read our interview with Pooh expert Brian Sibley here

Milne insisted that Shepard illustrate Winnie-The-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House At Pooh Corner and Shepard is said to have grown to resent “that silly old bear”, as he felt that this work was very much a sideline and overshadowed his work for Punch. Perhaps though he meant the phrase more affectionately than has been suggested, for he also said, "It was a happy task for me making these drawings and I have grown to love the little folk of these stories."

Early days

Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin
"Do you think you could very kindly lean against me, 'cos I keep pulling so hard that I fall over backwards"
© Estate of E.H. Shepard and Egmont UK Ltd.
Born in St John’s Wood, London, in 1879, EH Shepard's parents Henry, an architect, and Jessie, the daughter of successful watercolour painter William Lee, told him to always carry a notebook and pencil wherever he went – which he did for 79 years.

He always dreamed of being an artist and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy School, where he met his first wife, Florence Chaplin. They married in 1904 and had two children. Shepard’s inspiration for his version of Pooh was his son Graham’s Steiff bear, Growler (later destroyed by a dog!).

As the stories developed, Milne was keen that the new characters - Kanga, Roo, Piglet, Eeyore - should be "drawn from life", so EH Shepard duly travelled to his home, Cotchford Farm in Sussex, in March 1926. While there he also sketched some of the surrounding countryside and Ashdown Forest. The pair were never close friends or colleagues. Shepard wrote, "I never knew him intimately. It was difficult to get beyond the façade."

Winnie-the-Pooh was published that October and Milne - realising his illustrator's contribution to the book's success, generously arranged for Shepard to receive a share of his royalties. Milne also, touchingly, inscribed a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with the following personal verse:

When I am gone,
Let Shepard decorate my tomb,
And put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone:
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven,
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)…
And Peter, thinking that they are my own,
Will welcome me to Heaven.

Wartime heroics

Map of 100 Aker Wood
Map of 100 Aker Wood, by EH Shepard
© Estate of E.H. Shepard and Egmont UK Ltd.
Shepard served in the Army during the first world war, rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field. It was at this time that he became a regular contributor to Punch, sending in jokes about the battles from the trenches. He went on to illustrate more than 50 books - including classics such as Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, Tom Brown's Schooldays and David Copperfield - and contributed a weekly drawing to Punch until 1953.

In the 1930s he drew the human-like animal illustrations for Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, followed by his classics Dream Days and The Golden Age. Like those of Pooh, his drawings of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger are how generations of children still picture the characters to this day.

Too old to fight in the second world war, Shepard enlisted in the Home Guard. His son Graham served in the Navy and was killed when his ship was sunk in the Atlantic. Florence died in 1927 and Shepard remained single for several years until he married Norah Carrol in 1943.

Seeing the dra
"Wind In The Willows" illustration by EH Shepard
Toad in "Wind In The Willows". Illustration by EH Shepard
© TopFoto.co.uk

Shepard lived in Shamley Green, near Guildford, for 51 years and gave his personal collection of papers - including diaries, photographs and many original book and Punch illustrations - to the University of Surrey in 1972, the same year he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Find out more about the university's archive here.

Most of his Winnie-The-Pooh illustrations are held by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. These can be found in the Word & Image department, along with work by John Tenniel, Aubrey Beardsley, Quentin Black and Kate Greenaway. In 1969, Shepard donated 300 of his original pencil sketches. These were exhibited later that year and have since toured the world. They are now published as The Pooh Sketch Book, edited by Brian Sibley. He wrote two autobiographies – Drawn From Memory (1957) and Drawn From Life (1962).

He died in the 50th anniversary year of Winnie-the-Pooh, 1976, aged 96, at Midhurst in Sussex.