Alfred Bestall

Alfred Bestall (British, 1892-1986)

Alfred Bestall was born in 1892 in Mandalay, Burma. He studied art at Birmingham College of Art (1912-14) and at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1919-22). During the First World War he was sent to Flanders. He illustrated a number of books but is perhaps best remembered for his work on the Rupert the Bear cartoon strip which he began illustrating in 1935, taking over from Mary Tourtel.

Bestall made Rupert a more human-like bear with adventures based around daily life. He improved the stories and plots of Rupert but more importantly he created the most beautifully crafted illustrations in the Rupert Bear Annuals. Much of the landscape in Rupert is inspired by the Snowdonia landscape of North Wales, where Bestall’s family had a cottage.

Bestall produced his last Rupert story in 1965 and he retired from the Daily Express in the same year, but continued creating the covers for the Annuals until 1973.

His early work was in black and white sometimes with a blue overlay for publication but for the early annuals which began in 1936 a second colour was budgeted for and they were overlaid with a salmon pink colour. The Rupert annuals were a resounding success despite Bestall’s initial misgivings. From 1940 onwards full-colour reproduction was introduced and Bestall only coloured the cover paintings for the annuals. In order to produce full colour illustrations for the annuals, the initial black and white drawings were photographed as pale blue keylines which were then hand coloured with watercolour by ‘Rupert’ artists, usually Doris Campbell, who from 1954 was the principal artist responsible for colouring the Annual and her skill has helped to create some of the best examples of children’s book illustration in British publishing. Then an overlay of the original drawing in black line is applied over the top of the hand-painted colour. Until 1979 the overlays were produced by tracing the originals onto glass (later film) and the hand-coloured underlay painted onto Whatman board.

.Reference: Perry, George with Alfred Bestall. A Bear’s Life: Rupert, Pavilion Books, 1985.

All works presented within bespoke white box frames/conservation mounts.