Mottisfont exhibition launches centenary of one of Britain’s best-loved illustrators – Normal Thelwell

The National Trust is showcasing 100 Years of Norman Thelwell featuring over 150 works, including his trademark ponies and other illustrations full of comedy and sharp satire, alongside glorious watercolours of local landscapes and landmarks in southern Hampshire where Thelwell lived.

His sketchbooks, diaries and letters are displayed for the first time, alongside Thelwell’s paintbrushes, easel, and the desk he drew at for over 40 years, drawings including a self-portrait aged ten and a pencil sketch of a much-loved family cat. A rare surviving Thelwell pony rocking horse is one of several items of merchandise on show.

The Early Years

From early adulthood Thelwell travelled with a sketchbook, even when on active service during World War Two. Serving in the East Yorkshire Regiment of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers whilst in India he captured scenes of daily domestic life, on show in the exhibition.

Post War

After the war, followed by several years of studying then teaching art, Thelwell had his first cartoon published by Punch in 1952, leading to a relationship which lasted for 25 years and over 1,500 cartoons. He became known for his talent for quick-witted commentary. However, he is probably best known for illustrating the hilarious antics of comic characters Penelope and her mischievous hair-brained pony, Kipper – stars of a cartoon strip in the Sunday Express from the 1960s.

Thelwell Ponies

According to son David, The Thelwell ponies came from an insight into a world where small girls battled with tubby, badly-behaved ponies came about from watching similar, real-life scenes acted out in the field that lay beyond his house in Wolverhampton. The pony illustrations attracted a world-wide following.

Norman Thelwell’s son, David Thelwell said: “My father lived to draw and paint, and when I was about seven or eight, I would go into the studio to see what Dad was working on. I loved watching him create the small strip cartoon he did for the Eagle comic; I thought, what a wonderful way to earn a living, but later on I realised how difficult it is to do that successfully.”

The art gallery opens 11am-4:30pm daily. Normal price applies (free for National Trust and Art Fund members).