A major exhibition of the work of celebrated British cartoonist Norman Thelwell is on until April at Hampshire’s National Trust property, Mottisfont Abbey.
Best known for his hilarious cartoons of plump little girls on equally spherical ponies, those familiar pictures are joined by other satires of 20th-century life, alongside beautiful paintings of local landscapes.
More than 70 original artworks are on show, including many that have never been exhibited before and some from private family archives.
First created in the 1950s and published extensively since, Thelwell’s pony cartoons are still easily recognisable today. The artist drew the endearing characters Penelope and her mischievous pony Kipper in hundreds of humorous scenarios, from ungainly jumps and gallops to the destruction of country fairs.
Thelwell also produced numerous other satirical cartoons, with observations on country life, from gardening and fishing to the upkeep of heritage properties.
The exhibition reveals many of these pictures, including images of Mottisfont itself, Romsey Abbey, and the landscape and villages of the Test Valley, brought to life by an extraordinary talent for naturalistic painting.
Thelwell’s wit is as fresh now as the day his watercolour and ink dried.Read more:
Admission to the gallery at Mottisfont is free, and there is a Thelwell-themed a ‘spot the detail’ trail throughout the exhibition.
For those unable to access the upstairs gallery, there are digital versions of exhibitions on iPads available on lower levels.
Born in Birkenhead, Thelwell spent World War II in the East Yorkshire Regiment, having signed up at the age of 18 in 1941, and was art editor of an army magazine in New Delhi, India.
His first published cartoon, in the London Opinion, was an Indian subject.
In 1944, he took evening classes in art at Nottingham Art School, then took a degree at Liverpool College of Art. In 1950, he took up a post teaching design and illustration at Wolverhampton College of Art, but gave this up to work freelance in 1956.
He became a contributor to the satirical magazine Punch, who first published his work in 1952, beginning a 25-year relationship that resulted in more than 1500 cartoons, of which 60 were used as front covers. He also worked as political cartoonist for the News Chronicle from 1956 until the paper closed in 1960.
His first collection of cartoons, Angels on Horseback, was published in 1957.
Known to many only as Thelwell, he found his true comic niche with Pony Club girls and their comic ponies, a subject for which he became best-known. He also illustrated Chicko in the British boys’ comic Eagle.
For the last quarter of a century of his life he lived in the Test Valley at Timsbury, near Romsey, gradually restoring a farm house and landscaping the grounds which gave rise in 1978 to his first factual book, A Plank Bridge by a Pool, which detailed the first two lakes he dug there.
Normal Thelwell died in February, 2004, at the age of 80.
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