Ernest Howard Shepard was born on December 10, 1879, in London. His father was an architect, and his mother – who died when Ernest was ten years old – was the daughter of a watercolorist. It was she who encouraged young Ernest to paint and draw. Shepard attended St. Paul’s School, Heatherley’s Art School, and the Royal Academy Schools. There was never any doubt that he would be an artist. His first picture was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1901. Later, he supported himself by producing book illustrations, oil paintings, and black-and-white drawings for illustrated papers.
In 1903 Shepard married Florence Chaplin, a mural painter and fellow student at the Academy. They had two children: Graham, who was killed in World War II, and Mary, who later illustrated the Mary Poppins books.
In 1915 Shepard was commissioned by the Royal Artillery and served in France, Belgium, and Italy. He returned to civilian life in 1919. He was elected to the editorial board of Punch magazine, where he met A. A. Milne’s publisher, who asked Shepard if he would be interested in illustrating a book of Milne’s verses for children. The first edition of When We Were Very Young sold out on the day Methuen published it, in 1924. “I had been paid fifty pounds for the job,” Shepard later recalled. “The next day Methuen decided to give me a check for one hundred pounds as a bonus.”
Before illustrating Milne’s next volume, Winnie-The-Pooh, Shepard traveled to Sussex, where the Milne family lived. He visited the pine trees, the stream, the bridge, and Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals, on which the illustrations for the later three Pooh books were based.
The success of the Pooh books made Shepard famous and widely sought after. For nearly thirty years he illustrated books, for both adults and children. Among them is Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in The Willows.
Florence died in 1927. Shepard remarried in 1944, and in 1955 he closed his London studio and retired to the Sussex village of Lodsworth. In 1969, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, the Victoria and Albert Museum honored the artist with an exhibition of the three hundred sketches from the Pooh books that Shepard had donated to the museum. In 1973 he colored his drawings for Winnie-The-Pooh for a special edition of that book.
Ernest Shepard died in 1976. His work has been loved by children and adults for generations. When Winnie-The-Pooh was first published in the United States, by E. P. Dutton, Milne wrote this tribute to his collaborator:
When I am gone
Let Shepard decorate my tomb,
And put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone;
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)…
And Peter, thinking that they are my own,
Will welcome me to heaven.