As Shepherd’s favourite animal, elephants were the subject that the artist returned to most often for his wildlife pictures. Early in his career Shepherd was given the chance to see his first elephants in the wild by Mervyn Cowie, a pioneering conservationist, at Amboseli in Kenya; an experience which was to have a profound effect upon his life’s work. Describing Amboseli as ‘raw, unspoiled Africa’, Shepherd delighted at the opportunity to get close to elephants in great numbers, all the while observing and photographing them for his subject paintings. These such encounters led to a special affinity between the artist and the animal; a connection which found a perpetual outlet in his artistic production.
In the present example titled The Mighty Giant, Shepherd adopts a low viewpoint replicating how he would have seen the animal when in the bush. This at once enhances the monumental form of this bull elephant which dominates the space with its majestic presence. Employing his familiar optic technique, the composition is constructed out of a multiple of sections that are each either in or out of focus, leading our attention towards the focal point which in turn renders the whole to appear as it would from life when seen through the human eye. As we observe we are drawn to the superb definition of the elephant’s leathery skin and large, flapping ears which stands in marked contrast to the broader, impressionistic brushwork adopted for the surrounding environment that remains. The immediate foreground is rich in texture with thick impasto brushwork, a much desired and highly recognisable hallmark of Shepherd’s distinctive style.
David Shepherd is considered to be one of the finest wildlife artists of the last one hundred years. His approach stems from a personal attachment to the animals of Kenya. As a boy, he dreamt of becoming a game warden to no avail and was fortunate when his early artistic career as an aviation artist led to a commission from the RAF in 1960. On consignment in Kenya, inspired by the animals that he encountered, he painted his first wildlife painting which would change the course of his career; a rhinoceros chasing a Twin Pioneer airplane, capturing two of his great passions. It was also on this time trip in Kenya that David became a passionate conservationist overnight when he saw 255 zebra poisoned to death by poachers.
Gladwell & Patterson have long championed David’s artistic and charitable work, across the three generations of the Fuller family. Our 275-year-old gallery has been privileged to display David’s superb paintings over the decades. Together with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the gallery held the first retrospective exhibition of David’s work since his death in January 2019. The exhibition raised awareness and funds for the Foundation's continuing work with a percentage of proceeds from the sale of the paintings during this exhibition donated to the Foundation for educational projects in Zambia.
Click the image below to view our David Shepherd catalogue.