Thursday, July 31, 2008

E.H. Shepard’s Academic Studies

(Note to parents: there’s some minor artistic nudity on this post).

Last weekend some artist friends came by the studio: Barry Klugerman (left), an artist, collector, and connoisseur of illustrated books; fellow illustrator Mark Elliott; and muralist, portrait painter, and illustrator Mike Wimmer (far right). Mike was stopping by on his way home to Oklahoma after attending the Hartford Art School Illustration MFA Program.

Barry brought up his collection of academic figure drawings by Ernest H. Shepard. Better known for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations, Shepard won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools in 1897, where he received rigorous academic training. At age 18, he was the youngest student there, but he was already good at drawing. Both his parents were artists, and they were close friends with the artists Frank Dicksee and Edwin Abbey.

These drawings were done in 11 sessions, 2 hours each (with breaks) in the figure class under proctors like George Clausen and John Singer Sargent. Once the pose was set by the visiting teacher, the students were not allowed to make suggestions, and they were absolutely forbidden to speak to the model. Male and female students worked and lived separately.

Nevertheless Shepard met the woman who was to be his first wife at art school. Her name was Florence Eleanor Chaplin, three years his senior, but at least his equal at drawing (her drawing above). Like many gifted female artists, she sacrificed her career for her responsibilities in a Victorian marriage.

Shepard soon was illustrating for the magazine Punch. According to biographer Rawle Knox, “knowing that he was a draughtsman rather than a colorist, he tried to get a footing as an illustrator and black and white artist.” The apparent ease and simplicity of Shepard’s Pooh illustrations belie the long hours of careful observation from his early training.

All images are copyright their respective owners.
Information from The Work of E H Shepard, by Rawle Knox, available at Amazon.


Andrew said...

Wow. I always love seeing the other side of the old illustrators, especially when you're so familiar with just one of their works and nothing else. Seeing his life study is pretty amazing, and he had Sargent as a mentor! How cool is that!

Victor said...

Do you have any other photos of Shepard's academic drawings? I'm currently studying at an academy and I'm always looking for examples of highly finished figure drawings from the past for inspiration.

James Gurney said...

Sorry, Victor, I tried taking a couple photos of Barry's other academic drawings, but they didn't come out. Barry is looking for a venue that might want to exhibit the originals, so if you know of a place (maybe an art school), let me know, and I'll pass it on to him. The photos don't do the originals justice.

Drew, yes, wouldn't it be cool to have Sargent as our teacher? I read somewhere that they asked him to be president of the Royal Academy, but he refused because he was so terrified of public speaking.

Stephen James. said...

Those are some fine Academic studies.

Charley Parker said...

Wonderful! I've never seen work of Shepard's other than his illustrations for Milne's books and Wind in the Willows. Thanks!

There is a good chapter on Shepard in A Treasury of The Great Children's Book Illustrators by Susan E. Meyer.

In searching for superb academic figure drawings, if you haven't already, you might look for those of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Some links here.

Kristina Carroll said...

I think what I love best is the success of someone with an intense academic background in branching off into different styles and excelling at them. This is the sort of range I would like to aspire to in my art, and it is heartening to see such a great illustrator mastering both.