About E H Shepard

Ernest Howard Shepard, MC, OBE was one of the 20th century’s last – and perhaps greatest – black-and-white illustrators in the Victorian tradition, best known worldwide for his work illustrating children’s literature. His collaboration with A.A. Milne on the Winnie-the-Pooh books has become iconic, as are his illustrations for Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

Shepard was born on December 10th 1879, in St. John’s Wood, London, the youngest of three children. His parents, Henry Dunkin Shepard and Harriet Jessie Lee, married in 1874, and his siblings Ethel and Cyril, were born in 1876 and 1878 respectively. Henry was an architect with a love of the arts, a keen amateur artist and actor good enough for Henry Irving to offer him a place in his theatre company. Jessie was the daughter of William Lee, RA, a prominent Victorian watercolourist. Her family home became a notable salon for London’s artistic and theatrical community – which gave Ernest early access to mentors like Frank Dicksee. Jessie Shepard died in 1890. Henry and the children spent a year living with his sisters in the Gordon Square house after her death, then moved to Hammersmith and later Blackheath.

Ernest spent several years at St. Paul’s School, where the High Master earmarked him for a scholarship at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1897, he spent a year at Heatherley’s School of Art in Chelsea, and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1898. His talent led him to win the Landseer Scholarship in 1899, the British Institution prize in 1900, and awards for figure painting and drawing in 1901. Among his many friends was Florence Eleanor Chaplin, a talented student four years his senior; she was the granddaughter of Ebenezer Landsells, one of the founders of Punch.

Their relationship blossomed, and they agreed to marry around 1902. At the time, Henry Shepard’s health was in steep decline and money was a major problem. Henry died in the spring of 1903, leaving his children in dire financial straits. During this time, Ernest was working on an oil painting titled The Followers which would appear in the 1904 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and Florence was creating a mural for St. Thomas’s Hospital. Eventually, this and other work – bolstered by Frank Dicksee’s purchase of The Followers for the municipal art gallery in Durban, South Africa – allowed them to marry in 1904.

Their initial poverty led them to move to a cottage in Shamley Green outside Guildford, and commute to London – then considered a shocking bohemian thing! He and Florence had two children – Graham, in 1907, and Mary, in 1909. By 1906, when Shepard made his first freelance contributions to Punch, he was an established illustrator, having worked on editions of Aesop’s fables, David Copperfield, and Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered for the Royal Artillery, where he eventually commanded the 105 Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He served on the Western and Italian fronts, partly in the pioneering field of aerial reconnaissance; the archive contains thousands of letters to and from Shepard during this time. He won the Military Cross (the UK’s third-highest award for gallantry) for his actions as a forward artillery observer during the Battle of Arras (April-May 1917). He was demobilised from Italy in March 1919.

In 1921, he joined the editorial staff of Punch, a long-held ambition. For more than 30 years, he provided a weekly cartoon, and often the header for the front page of the magazine. Working for Punch boosted his illustration career as well: the editor, E.V. Lucas, was also the head of Methuen Publishing. Lucas was responsible for the collaboration of Shepard and A.A. Milne, a well-known playwright and writer of light verse, on the Winnie-the-Pooh books: When we were Very Young (1924), Winnie the Pooh (1926), Now We Are Six (1927), and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). The partnership immortalised both.

In 1927, Florence died suddenly during a routine operation. Shepard coped with his devastation by throwing himself into work; the 1930s were probably his most productive decade, and included his other iconic work, the 1931 edition of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. In 1935 he became second cartoonist on the editorial staff of Punch, until 1949. Mary Shepard married E.V. Knox, then Shepard’s editor at Punch, in 1937; she achieved fame as the illustrator of the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.

During the Second World War, Shepard commanded a battalion of the Surrey Home Guard; Graham joined the Royal Volunteer Naval Reserve, was called up, and was killed in action on convoy duty in 1943. In 1944, Shepard married Norah Mary Radcliffe Carroll, a nurse whom he’d met at a concert at St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington.

Malcolm Muggeridge’s appointment as Punch editor in 1953 ended Shepard’s career there on a rather bitter note. He carried on his illustration work, gave lectures and broadcasts, and branched into writing: two volumes of memoirs, Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn from Life (1961), and two largely-forgotten children’s stories, Ben and Brock and Betsey and Joe.

He also worked on Winnie-the-Pooh’s spin-off books and coloured images for new editions. This included creating two drawings for Winnie ille Pu (1958), the Latin translation that is the first foreign-language and only Latin book ever to make the New York Times bestseller list.

In 1969, for his 90th birthday, Shepard donated the pencil sketches for the Winnie-the-Pooh books to the V&A; in 1972 received the OBE and donated 100 political cartoons from Punch to the University of Kent (now the British Cartoon Archive there). E.H. Shepard died on March 24th 1976.

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