On this day in history : 25th April 1931 – The birth of English artist, author and conservationist David Shepherd – known for his paintings of wildlife, aviation and steam locomotives – and his wildlife foundation….

David Shepherd mid 1990s – Image credit : NotFromUtrecht – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David was born in Hendon, London and spent much of his childhood in Totteridge, North London before boarding at the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire…. At the age of eight he won a painting competition in the children’s publication ‘Nursery World’….

He left school in 1949 and travelled to Kenya with hopes of realising a career as a game warden – only to be rejected…. On returning to England he was to face rejection once again – this time when he applied to the Slade School of Fine Art – part of the University College of London – he was told that he had ‘no talent whatsoever’! However, not everybody agreed with this opinion – as David was taken under the wing of and taught by artist Robin Goodwin – a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and a lecturer at the Slade School….

David started his art career as an aviation artist – working for the armed services he was given the chance to travel the world…. It was whilst in Kenya in 1960 that he was commissioned by the RAF to produce his first wildlife painting – a rhinoceros on a runway…. It was to prove to be a turning point in his career as an artist….

Whilst in Tanzania and during an excursion into the African bush David came across a harrowing sight – a waterhole that had become poisoned – some 255 zebra lay dead around it…. The experience inspired him to become involved with conservation – and becoming a some what outspoken campaigner…. He always felt it to be his duty to help those animals endangered by human society – elephants, tigers, rhino and so many more – the creatures that gave him so much success as an artist…. He received an Honoury Degree in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute, New York, in 1971….

David Shepherd, 2014 – Photo credit : Meg Ghyll via Flickr

His first major fund raising success was for Indria Gandhi’s ‘Operation Tiger’ in 1973 – when his painting ‘Tiger Fire’ raised £127K – over £1.4 million in today’s terms…. One of his most famous paintings is ‘Tiger in the Sun’ from 1977…. He is also well-known for his paintings of elephants – especially ‘The Ivory is Theirs’ and ‘Wise Old Elephant’…. Over the years his paintings have raised vast amounts for conservation projects…. In 1979 he was awarded with an OBE….

In 1984 David set up ‘The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’…. With his own efforts and those of supporters and artists from all around the world the Foundation has raised and donated in grants well in excess of £10 million to wildlife survival projects in Africa and Asia….

In 2011 he launched the campaign ‘Tiger Time’ – to save tigers in the wild, receiving much celebrity support including from Sir Paul McCartney, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais…. In 2012 David was awarded the Conservation Award in the Wetnose Animal Aid Awards and in 2016 he received the Animal Hero Lifetime Achievement Award…. He was a Member of Honour of the WWF….

Aside from his work as a conservationist in wildlife he was also a steam enthusiast and owned a collection of steam locomotives…. He did much in the conservation of our steam heritage and was involved in the founding of the East Somerset Railway – and also served as President of the ‘Railway Ramblers’….

David Shepherd with wife, Avril, 1991 – Image credit : H.G. Graser – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David died in hospital on the 19th of September 2017 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease…. He left behind his wife Avril, four daughters, his grand children and great grand children – all of whom share his passion and continue his work….

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