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Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations Including Eric Gill – The Felix Dennis Collection

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Shepard, E.H.
"FOR A LONG TIME THEY LOOKED AT THE RIVER BENEATH THEM..."
188 by 148mm, original ink drawing, signed "EHShepard" lower left, artist's name and address on reverse (corrected from "Shamley Green | Guildford" to "Long Meadow | Longdown"), mounted, framed and glazed, collector's box, browning below mount
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Provenance

sold in these rooms, 20 April 1971; sold in these rooms, 10 June 1975

Catalogue Note

PROBABLY THE MOST FAMOUS AND EVOCATIVE BOOK ILLUSTRATION OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. THE PRESENT PIECE HAS BEEN IN A PRIVATE COLLECTION FOR ALMOST FORTY YEARS.

Chapter six of The House at Pooh Corner is the episode "in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in". The game is, of course, 'Poohsticks' and it is 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 chapter concludes with Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet left on the famous 'Poohsticks' bridge by themselves. Suddenly the tone changes from the excitement of a game - and tips about how to win - to a more wistful and contemplative mood. Milne writes that "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". Piglet breaks the silence and volunteers his view that "Tigger is all right, really". Pooh goes further and suggests "Everybody is really... But I don't suppose I'm right..." Christopher Robin's final affirmation that Pooh is indeed correct closes the chapter in a spirit of unified friendship and forgiveness.

This illustration is central to Milne's message throughout his Winnie-the-Pooh books and, to this, Shepard has added his own detail and quiet humour: Christopher Robin is leaning over the top of the bridge, Pooh has his paws on the lowest rung and Piglet, too short to reach a rung and a little timid, safely holds onto Pooh making sure he is not too close to the edge.

The finished illustration is used twice in the published book: on page 106 and also as the frontispiece to the first (and many subsequent) editions. It has been parodied many, many times (see, for example, Private Eye, 13 November 1987) and, as such, is a familiar cultural reference.

The drawing is captioned below the mount "...beneath them" (with Shepard having erased the beginning of the line). A variant of the chapter title is also provided as "Eeyore joins the game". The frame is thought to be the original frame from the Sporting Gallery exhibition held at the end of 1928. The frame includes "On the bridge | Item 40 | 20 gns" in pencil on the reverse. Reviewing that exhibition, The Times, noted that "in the illustrations to Mr. A.A. Milne's stories Mr. Shepard shows a remarkable aptitude in giving a human expression to animals, and his pigs, rabbits, and other animals are, if possible, even more expressive than the children which accompany them" (The Times, 17 December 1928, page 9).

By the late 1970s the original wooden bridge, known as Posingford Bridge, at Hartfield Farm, Sussex had fallen into disrepair. It was carefully restored and reopened by Christopher Milne in May 1979. At the ceremony it was claimed that the bridge was "as important a bridge as any in the world". As visitor numbers increased the bridge began to suffer and in 1999 a complete reconstruction was necessary. Since 1984 the annual World Poohsticks Championships have been held at Day's Lock on the River Thames.

English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations Including Eric Gill – The Felix Dennis Collection

|
London