Can a picture really paint a thousand words?
'Old Shepherd' in pen and ink, by Robert Taylor Pritchett
In the 1860s, an eminent artist came to Esher. His name was Robert Taylor Pritchett, and over the two decades he, his wife Louisa and their family called the area home, he produced a vast array of sketches displaying some of the most picturesque parts of the surrounding country.
Pritchett was born in Islington, London, on the 24th February 1828. He had exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1851 and was on the staff of Punch – a popular magazine established in 1841, famed for its humorous illustrations and cutting satire and widely regarded as a proponent of the modern cartoon. He also painted many watercolours of Royal functions, and published accounts of his visits to Holland in 1871 and Norway in 1878. He was one of the finest book illustrators of the Victorian period and a master of pen and ink sketches. In Pritchett’s detailed black and white drawings of Esher, it’s easy to see how he turned his hand to the expressive art of cartoon drawing.
Pritchett drew inspiration from everywhere in Esher - rolling open fields, trickling streams and hidden cobweb-filled corners feature widely in his work. But arguably, it is his human sketches which are the most captivating. This one is part of a set of 36 held by Elmbridge Museum, which attracted widespread attention at the time of their acquisition in May 1985. The beautiful set constituted the biggest arts purchase yet from the Council's Art Fund, and was reported across most local newspapers at the time.
The above depicts an ‘Old Shepherd’ from Esher, named Bedo Philpot, in his home. The elderly man sits in a chair by a fireplace, his shepherd’s staff hanging next to it on the cracked wall. The clock shows that it is around 11 o’clock, giving viewers the sense of a moment of calm after Philpot has returned from his early-morning shepherding. He is examining what appears to be a newspaper with an indistinct expression on his face. Satisfied, concerned, or engrossed – the range of possible readings of this image only add to its appeal.