London auction house Sotheby’s has announced the auction of arguably the most famous and evocative book illustration of the twentieth century: E.H. Shepard’s original ink drawing of Christopher Robin, Piglet and Pooh on the famous ‘poohsticks’ bridge, first published in A.A. Milne’s celebrated The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.
As well as other Winnie the Pooh illustrations by Shepard, the other art in the auction in the Children’s Book and Illustrations section includesLord of the Rings art by John Blanche, the work of Edmund Dulac, an extensive collection of the works of Biggles creator W.E. Johns (including letters and short stories), art inspired by the stage adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s Cats by Mike Margolis, art by Beatrix Potter, Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson and G.L. Stampa and rare collections of the Harry Potter books signed by author J.K. Rowling.
The auction also features rare first editions of some of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and stunning art by Eric Gill from the collection of the late entrepeneur and Oz underground magazine editor Felix Dennis.
Having formed the frontispiece for this (and many subsequent) editions, the ‘Poohsticks Bridge’ illustration can be counted among the most familiar, and most loved, cultural references in English literature.
Estimated at £100,000-150,000, the drawing has been in a private collection for almost forty years, and will be sold as part of Sotheby’s auction of English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations on 9th December 2014,
The drawing features in chapter six “in which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in”. The game is, of course, ‘Poohsticks’, 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 illustration accompanies the chapter’s closing scene when Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet are left on the famous ‘Poohsticks’ bridge by themselves. Suddenly the tone changes from the excitement of playing the game – and tips about how to win – to a more wistful and contemplative mood:
‘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, volunteering his view that “Tigger is all right, really”, to which Pooh adds “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, a message central to A.A. Milne’s books.
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.
By the late 1970s the original ‘Poohsticks’ Bridge, a wooden bridge known as Posingford bridge at Hartfield Farm, Sussex had fallen into disrepair. It was carefully restored and reopened by Christopher Milne (A.A. Milne’s son who provided the inspiration for Christopher Robin) 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.
• For a full list of the rules of ‘Poohsticks’ visit: www.pooh-sticks.com/content/rules
• Sotheby’s London Auction of English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations will take place on 9th December 2014. Click here for the online catalogue and auction details