E.H. Shepard’s original drawing of Christopher Robin, Piglet and Pooh on the famous ‘Poohsticks’ bridge has sold for the new world record price of £314,500 (est. £100,000-150,000):This is also a new record price for any book illustration at auction.
First published in A.A. Milne’s celebrated The House at Pooh Corner in 1928, and having formed the frontispiece for this (and many subsequent) editions, the drawing can be counted among the most famous book illustrations of the 20th century. It had been in the same private collection since being acquired at Sotheby’s nearly 40 years ago.
Dr Philip Errington, Director, Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts: “Unseen in public for forty years, we knew that this drawing would really capture people’s imagination, but today’s result exceeded all expectations. The illustration is central to the Winnie-the-Pooh books, and in turn has become one of the most familiar cultural references of the twentieth century. The new world record price was well deserved and goes to show that the very finest book illustrations are becoming increasingly recognised as works of art in their own right.”
The previous auction record for any book illustration was £289,250 set by Beatrix Potter’s “The rabbits’ Christmas party: The departure” at Sotheby’s in 2008 The previous auction record for any E.H. Shepard illustration was £139,250 set by “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump” at Sotheby’s in 2012
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 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.