It is extremely rare for one of Shepard’s preliminary pencil drawings for a significant Winnie-the-Pooh drawing to be offered for sale at auction.
Chapter six of The House at Pooh Corner is titled ‘in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in’. This is, of course, ‘Poohsticks’ and described by Milne as a game ‘…which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest’. The finished illustration is used twice in the published book: on page 106 and also as the frontispiece in the first edition. Milne, Shepard or the publishers therefore considered the image central to the book. The chapter concludes with Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet left on the famous ‘Poohsticks’ bridge by themselves. They are all in a contemplative mood and ‘for a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon’. Finally the subject of Tigger is raised and Piglet volunteers his view that ‘Tigger is all right, really’. Pooh suggests that ‘Everybody is really’ but then doubts himself declaring ‘…I don’t suppose I’m right’. It is Christopher Robin’s final affirmation that Pooh is correct that closes the chapter in a spirit of unified friendship and forgiveness.
Shepard’s working method is well-documented. He would make numerous sketches and studies and then prepare a preliminary pencil drawing on paper. These pencil drawings have a raw immediacy and a flowing line that reveals the artist in the act of creating his well-known illustrations. When Shepard was satisfied with his preliminary pencil drawing he would remove the sheet from his sketch-book (along a perforated edge), rub a soft pencil over the verso and then trace significant lines through the paper onto artist’s board. A final ink drawing would then be created using the traced guide.
The ink drawings were then sent to the publisher and reproduced in the books. The original black and white ink drawings, generally, were returned to the artist who sold them in a series of exhibitions at ‘The Sporting Gallery’ in the 1920s. The preliminary pencil drawings remained with the artist until most were lent to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a travelling exhibition in 1969-70. In the mid-1970s the collection, comprising around 271 sheets of sketches for the four Pooh books, were given to the V&A. The present drawing was not included and appears to have kept by the artist’s wife. Norah Shepard then gave it to a friend.
With four exceptions all the illustrations in The House at Pooh Corner are represented in the V&A Museum’s collection of preliminary pencil drawings (E.648-1973 through to E.670-1973, E.672-1973 through to E.687-1973, E.689-1973 through to E.701-1973, E.703-1973 through to E.719-1973, E.762-1973 through to E.764-1973, E.783-1973 through to E.784-1973 and E.783-1973 through to E.784-1973). In a few examples, the drawings may represent scenes or studies without characters. However, only ‘Rabbit… stood up again’ (from page 82), ‘What’s this that I’m looking at?’ (from page 88), ‘…the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood’ (from page 133) and the present piece are missing.
The paper type in the present piece is consistent with the V&A drawings. Shepard worked in a number of differently sized sketchbooks and some large sheets contain more than one preliminary drawing. However, it is significant that the previous illustration for the book, ‘Christopher Robin… feeling all sunny and careless…’ is a single drawing on a single leaf and on exactly the same paper stock with a perforated edge on the left, as here. It therefore appears that Shepard drew many of the illustrations in sequence. All preliminary drawings have the pencil rubbing on the reverse, as here.
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