The man whose drawings brought Winnie the Pooh to life spent the last years of his life hating the bear with very little brain.
The biggest regret in EH Shepard's life was agreeing to illustrate Winnie the Pooh for AA Milne, as it resulted in the bulk of his work, even during his lifetime, being completely overshadowed.
In his later years, Shepard was heard to describe Pooh as "that silly old bear" and resented his close identification with Milne's books.
Although he is best remembered today as the man who drew Pooh, Shepard himself saw these illustrations as very much a sideline. Instead his main occupation, from 1921 until 1953, was working as one of Punch magazine's leading political cartoonists.
Ernest Howard Shepard was born in St John's Wood in London on 10 December 1879. He found a talent for drawing at a young age and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy.
Although at first working as a painter, Shepard began to contribute joke cartoons and illustrations to several periodicals and journals. Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne noticed his work and recommended he send in cartoons for publication. From his first published cartoon in 1907, he became a regular contributor until 1953.
EH Shepard felt his work had been overshadowed by the bear
During the First World War, Shepard served in France, Belgium and Italy. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field and by the end of the war reached the rank of major. Throughout the war in the trenches, he continued to draw sketches and illustrations of life at the front.
In 1921, Sir Owen Seaman, editor of Punch, formally invited Shepard to join the Punch "table", which meant an appointment to the regular staff. Shepard succeeded Leonard Raven Hill as second cartoonist in 1935 and then became first cartoonist after Sir Bernard Partridge's retirement in 1945.
According to his granddaughter, novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, he was ill-suited to being a political cartoonist. "He neither found it easy to get a likeness nor could he manage the sheer indignation which gives political satire its weight."
However, RCG Price, in his history of Punch, believed that with Shepard's arrival "the rest of Punch began to look static".
Shepard's political cartoons are often full of literary allusions - with visual references to Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and for novels by Charles Dickens. His love of animals led him to include them as part of his composition wherever possible in his cartoons.
From the 1930s and through to the gruelling wartime years of the 1940s, Shepard's humour remained gentle and uplifting. According to cartoonist John Jensen: "Shepard moved from strength to strength, increasingly able to impose his quiet humour on otherwise grim and humourless topics."
When author AA Milne asked EV Lucas, another member of the Punch table, whom he would recommend to illustrate some children's verse, Lucas named Shepard. But Milne was reluctant to use Shepard, believing he did not have the style of draughtsmanship he wanted.
However, when Milne was finally persuaded to use Shepard in 1924 to illustrate his poems, When We Were Very Young, he was delighted with the result.
Growler - Pooh's inspiration
So when it came to illustrating Winnie the Pooh, Milne insisted that Shepard got the job.
Winnie the Pooh's face is now a globalised image
Though Milne was always pleased with Shepard's work, the two men were never close. "I always had to start again at the beginning with Milne, every time I met him," said Shepard.
In terms of his inspiration, Shepard's beautiful line drawings of Pooh were not taken from Christopher Robin's bear, but by Growler, the much-loved
bear belonging to the artist's son, Graham.
When the Second World War broke out, Shepard was over military age so he enlisted in the Home Guard. But his son Graham, serving in the Royal Navy, lost his life when his ship was sunk in the Atlantic.
When in 1953, Malcolm Muggeridge took over from Kenneth Bird ('Fougasse') as the editor of Punch, he was determined to give the magazine a fresh look. The first change Muggeridge made was to sack Shepard as lead cartoonist, putting Leslie Illingworth in his place.
On 24 March 1976, Shepard died aged 96 at Midhurst in Sussex. His pencil and pen and ink drawings are now highly regarded and sought after.
In the past 10 years, original EH Shepard drawings have realised record prices, especially those of Winnie the Pooh which now sell for tens of thousands of pounds.
Despite the fact that his political cartoons are in some ways far more interesting and have far more work in them, they sell for a fraction of the price.
Dr Tim Benson is curator of the Political Cartoon Gallery, London. The exhibition The Man Who Hated Pooh, which will be the first exhibition of Shepard's work to ignore Pooh but to concentrate on his other work for Punch, opens there on 22 March.
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
I have long enjoyed all of E.H Shepard's art work - but I must confess that my life would have been infinitely poorer without Winnie the Pooh and the Shepard illustrations. Fortunately I came to love these masterpieces of illustration before the insidious Disney version came to dominate the Pooh iconography. And my Teddy Bear agrees too.
John France, London, Great Britain.
How is it possible to write what poses as even the casualest outline of Shepard's life with no reference to his immortal Wind in the Willows illustrations? Kenneth Grahame was elderly when Shepard first met him, but by contrast with his relationship with Milne, it was a warm collaboration, and Shepard was always proud that the author on seeing his sketches, chuckled, and commented "I'm so glad you made them real!"
edwin ahearn, brooklyn, new york, usa
What a shame that EH Shepard had so little regard for his enchanting drawings of Pooh (infinitely more charming than the hideous Disney version we now see disfiguring merchandise). I dearly loved his illustrations for Milne's Pooh books and poetry as a small child. (By the way, I can recommend EH Shepard's autobiography of his early life, 'Drawn from Memory' - illustrated by the author, as I recall.)
Janet Davis, Sydney, Australia
From reading the article I think saying he "hated" Pooh was a little strong. Milne was upset that his poetry took a back seat to Pooh, but callnig him a "Silly old bear" hardly smacks of hatred. Although he was a life long political artist, his sketches of a simple bear in a tiemless world bring joy to generations of children, young and old. That's not a bad thing to be remembered for. In fact, it's a rather good thing.
Paul Astle, Lansdale, PA, USA
My children, like me, were brought up on Pooh and his friends and they love the drawings. Frankly, EH Shepard is a national treasure and as a decorated first world war veteran fought for the right to speak freely. Anyone who is thinking of critising him might just conisder that..tiddely-pom !
Matt Hood, Australia
Surely by calling Winnie the Pooh "that silly old bear" he was being equally as affectionate as Christopher Robin.
Just as an aside the image of Christopher Robin was based on my Grandfather, Humphrey Osbourne, as he was Ernest Shepards Godson. Great article by the way
Tim Ostle, Islington/London, UK
When I was a child, I hated Pooh too. I thought he was a brainless bear who was too stupid to remember his pants. For all those years I thought I was the only one who hated him, and now it appears I'm not alone!
Robyn Parton, Victoria, BC, Canada
Anyone interested in Shepard ought to read his two short and (of course) beautifully illustrated autobiograpical books, Drawn from Memory and Drawn from Life. He wrote almost as well as he drew, so these are exceptionally evocative and touching accounts of his life and milieu.
Robin Briggs, Oxford, UK
My grandfather (who sadly died last year) was a good friend of Christopher Robin and they served together in the army during the War. Christopher, too, hated his association with the books and was apparently teased a lot at school as a result. It seems sad and contradictory that Pooh brought distaste to those close to it, yet joy to a lot of other children.
Emma , London
Penelope Fitzgerald was actually Shepard's step-granddaughter. Her father was editor of Punch, E.V.Knox, whose second wife Mary was Shepard's daughter.
Belinda Hunt, Winchester, Hampshire
This story has greatly touched me! I feel that Eeyore is a symbol of abstinence, poverty, aids and depression. I also assume that he is in fact suicidal. And will soon be hnging himself by his cute little pin-on tail. H eis a bad role model for orphans.
Rosie Corner, Coxhoe
I saw an exhibition called 'The Art of EH Shepard,The Man Who Drew Pooh'at The Holburne Museum of Art in Bath last year. Being someone who has grown up and still lives within 10 miles of Hartfield, East Sussex where the famous stories were written by A.A.Milne in the 1920's, it was great to see EH Shepards drawings of Pooh but i was also fascinated by his other drawings. I shall definately make the effort to go and see this new exhibition.
Stuart Hayes, East Grinstead, West Sussex. UK
Is it not interesting that Shepard is not even happy his work is selling? Instead of him to use the money for some worthwhile cause or for the benefit of a charity he decides to be bitter and angry that he has 'wasted his life'. So many people would do anything to draw something that actually sells. I think it's a shame that a man with much talent chooses to be bitter about his life instaed of grateful.
I can see why the Shepherd feels his work has been overshadowed by his fantastic creations - the fact that they are so popular today shows that they will not be cast aside and forgotten in the near future!
Hannah Wilcox, St. Leonards-on-Sea
Love Milne's books, and Shepherd's illustrations.
Despise the Disneyfication of both their works.
Eddie Glover, Stirling
He may have hated his work but how very much better are his drawings than those terrible Disney travesties.
Peter Strangeways, Wilts. UK
Such a shame that these images that have brought so much pleasure to millions of children and adults alike were so disliked by their creator. I'm sure EH Shepard's cartoons were brilliant, but his images of innocent childhood pleasures conjured up by Christopher Robin, Pooh and friends will raise a nostalgic smile from me for a long time to come.
Jill Cockerham, Leeds, UK
Unfortunately the art of children's illustration (and writing) is often undervalued and misconstrued as being 'easy' and almost secondary to more adult or serious creativity - perhaps this is why he valued his political illustration more? It's good to see children's illustration is being taken more seriously these days with the opening of Seven Stories in Newcastle and the prices EH Shepard's work is bringing under auction. Children's writers and illustrators have a responsible and valuable job to do - books are often amongst a child's earliest point of reference to the world outside their home and can be educational and entertaining, as well as providing comfort in showing how life's problems can be solved etc. I find it quite sad that despite his work for the Pooh books being so successful, he found this a burden. I wonder how much this was to do with how society as a whole valued books and the pursuit of children's illustration at the time.
Paula Knight, Bristol
How can he hate this creation when Winnie The Pooh and friends have brought so much joy to so many people, young and old. That is wuite an achievement!
sarah, plymouth, UK
I can appreciate how Mr Shepard felt! I have a singer-songwriter friend who is haunted by a particularly popular song he wrote. The audience always shouts for it to be played, and he always complains that they pay more attention to this 'crowd-pleaser' than some of his more serious material. Victims of their own success.
The story is very thought provoking and interesting. It's a little frustrating that you haven't included a link to the Political Cartoon Gallery's website for details of its location etc.
Jeff Claxton, London, England
Of all regrets a man could have in his life, I cannot believe that illustrating the Winnie the Pooh books would be the biggest! I was totally enchanted by the drawings as a child (and still am at the age of 24). Moreover, I have always thought that Disney's interpretations could never hold a candle to EH Shepard's original, adorable drawings.
Carolyn, London, UK
A very interesting article but such a shame not to support your own argument by including fewer of Shepard's cartoons in favour of a picture of the Disney bear that Shepard never drew!
Clare Williams, London
If most people thought of Winnie the Pooh today they would probably think of the Disney version. E H Shepard's most iconic works are the classic illustrations for "Wind in the Willows", and find it astounding that they were not mentioned in your article!
Your story about the Winnie the Pooh written by AA Milne and drawn by EH Shepherd was mistakenly illustrated by a picture of a quite different bear who happens to have the same name, but is a Disney creation.
Disney is under the misapprehension that it has bought Winnie the Pooh. It hasn't of course done so, because it is incapable of grasping what he is about. Disney has bought the name and legal rights (but what would Pooh have ever known about legal rights?) and has created its own completely different bear under the same name. The personality of Disney Pooh bears no resemblence to that of the real, Ashdown Forest Winnie, and the two should never be confused.
Stephen Watson, Lewes
Could this story illustrate that political matters are always vastly overrated and artistic ones always underrated? In which case maybe posterity doesn't like politics either, along with everyone else but the politicians...
David Hellens, Dorset
There were much more difficult ways to earn a living and I'm sure it paid the bills. Nobody forced him to do draw Pooh and he could have stopped at any time and put his obvious talent to another use.
Mark, Enfield, England
The illustration captioned "Winnie the Pooh's face is now a globalised image" that accompanied the article was totally inappropriate. It was of the Disney Pooh, which, along with all the other Disney Winney-the-Pooh characters (Eyore, Piglet, et al) are a travesty.
Shev Smith, Welwyn, England
EH Shepard's renderings of Pooh and friends are the ones I always prefer to have in mind. It's a real shame Disney didn't stick to the same style (along with English accents!) when they made the film.
JA Booth, Leeds, UK
That's quite amusing!!
John Doe, Chorley
As a child, my sister, who is now in her 40s, had a first edition of Winnie the Pooh, and living close to E.H. Shepard in West Sussex, my parents took her to see him. They knocked on his door and asked if he would inscribe the book for her. He did so, and added a lovely simple drawing of Pooh with a balloon. He can't have hated the "silly old bear" that much.
Danvers Baillieu, London
Why does it always seem to happen that people react against that which identifies them in the public mind - Leonard Nimoy releases an autobiography "I am not Spock" then later another called "I am Spock"...I would have thought a child's joy in the visualisations he provided was reward enough for any artist, however seriously he took himself. And would we still remember him otherwise ?
How can you manage an article on Shephard without mentioning Wind in the Willows?
Peter , Hockley Essex
As this article is about the importance of Shepard's work other than for Milne, why is every single picture in the article of Pooh? As Shepard's satirical work is so important, could you show us some?
Alex Roberts, London, UK
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