The Artist and Conservationist David Shepherd

David Shepherd’s Siberian Tiger painted in 2000

The Sussex based international artist David Shepherd, CBE, FRSA, FGRA (1931-2017) is still celebrated for his painting and work as an outspoken conservationist. One of the most popular and gifted realist artists of his generation he was famous for his paintings of wildlife and steam locomotives.

David travelled to Kenya in 1949 where he encountering Africa and its wildlife. After failing to become a game warden he returned to London intent on becoming an artist only to be rejected by the Slade. The artist Robert Goodwin took the young David Shepherd under his wing and taught him to paint.

I met David at numerous charitable events across the county over the years and we discovered that we were both Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts and shared a passion for nature and steam locomotives. Despite owning several steam locomotives David was always very encouraging of my daughter and I’s humble model railway which has lift-off landscape so it can be neatly stored. And this was the measure of a man who took great interest in others and the world he lived in. Outward facing and passionate he stood in defence of the natural world and particularly the African and Asian wildlife he captured so beautifully in his paintings.

Tigers feature prominently in his art. The Siberian Tiger painted by David on a small canvas in 2000 captures the nobility of this critically endangered species which is only found in Northeast China and the Russian Far East. The play of light on the undergrowth and fur accentuates the life and movement in the scene. There is an intensity to the tiger’s piercing gaze, alert to the world it inhabits. It sold at Toovey’s for £10,000.

A detail of David Shepherd’s Rhinos in Namibia painted in 1999

Namibia, like so many African countries, is constantly engaged in the defence of its black rhinos against illegal poaching. The country is home to more than a third of Africa’s black rhinos. David Shepherd captures the rare sight of two black rhinos together on the African savannah in his small oil Rhinos in Namibia. The rhinos appear to be moving towards us through the sun-baked sparsely wooded grassland. The heat, light and movement is once again stunningly captured. The painting also sold at Toovey’s for £9000.

David’s love of these wild animals is apparent not only in his painting but also in the work of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation which he founded in 1984 to champion endangered wildlife and their habitats across Africa and Asia.

The Impressionists’ Colour Light and Intimacy on show at The Royal Academy Of Arts

Edgar Degas, Dancers on a Bench (detail), circa 1898, pastel on tracing paper © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Colour, light and intimacy define the collection of works on paper by leading Impressionist are on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until the 10th March 2024.

This exhibition, Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec, illustrates how Impressionism and Post Impressionism transformed the art of late 19th century France and for the first time gave works on paper, sketches, a status of their own.

The Impressionists were at first derided for their sketchy impressions of scenes but their approach would transform the art world by capturing the colour, movement and life in a landscape or scene. Rather than making sketches and working up a finished canvas in the studio they painted en plein air, outside in the open air. They worked quickly capturing momentary, fleeting effects of sunlight moving over a scene. This resulted in a heightened awareness of light and colour expressed in rapid, broken brushwork, the dabs of paint giving spontaneity and movement to their subjects.

In addition to their radical technique, the bright colours of Impressionist canvases shocked eyes accustomed to the more sober colours of academic painting. The paints themselves were more vivid too. New synthetic pigments provided artists’ with vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow. This use of colour is also apparent in their works on paper and can be seen in Vincent van Gogh’s graphite, black chalk, watercolour and gouache on paper The Fortifications of Paris from 1887.

Vincent van Gogh, The Fortifications of Paris with Houses, 1887, on paper © The Whitworth, The University of Manchester/Michael Pollard

Edward Degas’ subjects include his famous studies of ballet dancers, figures from the world of theatre and ballet in Paris. He worked in oil, pastel and produced bronze sculptures. Degas was inspired not only by the glamour of the stage but also the domestic aspects of this life which he depicted with intimacy and sensitivity.

The pastel drawing Dancers on a Bench captures a seated young woman exhausted after her performance. Her full-skirted tutu spreads out behind her framing the dancer in this unguarded scene. The palette, too, is arresting and radical with green hues discernible in the dancers’ complexions.

This exhibition offers an insight into the innovations made by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists in their drawings which are no less radical than their paintings.

Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec runs at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until 10th March 2024.