SHEPARD, "FOR A LONG TIME THEY LOOKED AT THE RIVER BENEATH THEM...", INK DRAWING, 1928 (FRAMED AND GLAZED)
- Attributed to E.H. Shepard
- "For a long time they looked at the river beneath them..."
- ink drawing on artist's board
Shepard sold his original drawings for Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner in exhibitions at The Sporting Gallery, Covent Garden. Such was the demand for key pieces, however, that Shepard is known to have re-drawn a few examples.
Shepard’s working method was to create a preliminary drawing on paper and, once satisfied with the composition, key details were transferred to artist’s board by rubbing a soft pencil on the verso of the preliminary and then tracing significant lines through the paper. As Shepard retained his preliminary drawings, he could re-draw compositions with some consistency.
Shepard’s preliminary pencil drawing was sold in these rooms on 10 December 2013. The original drawing, as used by the publishers was sold in these rooms on 20 April 1971, 10 June 1975 and 9 December 2014. On the last occasion it achieved a world record for the work of a book illustrator. A comparison between the preliminary pencil drawing, the original and the re-drawn version highlights a number of differences.
The first, and most striking, is that although Shepard had originally included some form of metal cladding to the post of the bridge, this was not included in the finished published drawing. For the present piece, having returned to the preliminary drawing, the cladding is finally present. The wooden grain in the bridge post has more detail in the 1929 version and the surrounding hundred acre wood in the background of the drawing also has increased detail.
The familiar image is an illustration for chapter six of The House at Pooh Corner and the "Poohsticks" episode. The chapter concludes with Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet left on the famous "Poohsticks" bridge by themselves. The tone suddenly 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 therefore central to Milne’s message of community. It is used twice in the published book: within the chapter and also as the frontispiece. As a cultural reference, it has been parodied many, many times (see, for example, Private Eye, 13 November 1987).
The original bridge (Posingford Bridge, at Hartfield Farm, Sussex) had fallen into disrepair by the late 1970s. 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".