By Charlotte Jansen
How did a honey-loving, talking bear from an English forest become one of the best-loved and most enduring fictional characters of all time?
David WillardsonWinnie the Pooh - Very Important PigletBaterbys Art Gallery
The answer might be found at a new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic.” The show, curated by Annemarie Bilclough and Emma Laws, traces the 90-year history and visual evolution of Winnie-the-Pooh (also known as Pooh Bear), from simple early sketches to the more recent, full-color Disney incarnation.
The museum displays for the first time some 90 original sketches, pencil and ink drawings, manuscripts, and hand-painted scenery recreating Pooh’s magical forest, the Hundred Acre Wood. It’s a homage to the rotund, affable teddy who has captured imaginations across generations, and a meaningful insight into how changing times have shaped the image of Pooh over the years.
Howard Coster, A.A. Milne; Christopher robin Milne and Pooh Bear, 1926. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
A collaboration between writer A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard (who also illustrated children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows), the first drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh, as well as his loyal companions Eeyore and Piglet, were done in 1926. On a visit to Milne’s home on Mallord Street in Chelsea, Shepard created the drawings based on toys he saw in the nursery.
Milne also invited Shepard to Cotchford Farm, his family’s weekend cottage in East Sussex, Bilclough explains. The illustrator wandered the surrounding forest with Milne, and also drew Christopher Robin Milne, the writer’s son, who would become Pooh’s companion. Milne is known to have based the human protagonists of his stories on the boy.
“The very first of these forest sketches is ‘where it all happened,”’ Bilclough says, noting that the drawing was done spontaneously, on the spot. “Shepard also drew some of the real trees that inspired the characters’ houses—Piglet’s and Owl’s houses. The latter tree was Christopher’s favorite because it had a branch he could walk on.”…………….