In the1950’s and 60’s the Anglo-Dutch petroleum company Shell (SHELL-MEX AND B.P. LTD. as it was then) did tremendous work
encouraging interest in wildlife and the countryside in post-war Britain, initially through advertisements in magazines such as Country Life,
The Illustrated London News and Punch.
Marsh and Riverside Birds, painted for Shell Nature Records
In 1955, edited by James Fisher and with the strapline “You can be sure of Shell. The key to the Countryside”, the theme of the advertisements was Nature Studies. Each month saw a new picture depicting wildlife through the seasons, painted by Maurice Wilson in collaboration with Rowland Hilder. These clean-cut illustrations were a breath of fresh air and were also issued as posters for use in schools. Further nature-focused series were followed by guides to UK counties and in 1964, The Roads of Britain. The 1965 series was the Shell Guide to Bird Sanctuaries for which Eric Ennion supplied 36 small square illustrations to accompany 12 landscapes painted by other eminent artists.
The series began with the full-page message from Peter Scott and James Fisher, bordered by 12 of Eric’s watercolours. This was followed by January’s sanctuary, Caerlaverock painted by Donald Watson, and the series concluded in December with Peter Scott’s snow-bound Slimbridge. To view the twelve advertisements, each with three of Eric Ennion’s single-species illustrations, click here. All the artwork was then reproduced in the best-selling Shell Bird Book by James Fisher, and Shell used the 12 landscapes and Eric Ennion’s Whitefronts for their prestigious 1966 calendar.
The cover of the calendar is remarkable; Eric Ennion’s 6-inch square original artwork is successfully enlarged to print at 11 inches square. Eric subsequently used the calendar cover as a teaching aid, illustrating how he worked on tinted paper, first underpainting with Chinese white to give form to a bird before applying colour.
Eric Ennion supplied an additional 44 small square illustrations and two cover paintings (Field and Open Countryside Birds; Marsh and Riverside Birds) for the Shell Nature Records British Birds series, published between 1966 and 1969. His illustrations appear on 8 of the 9 record sleeves, the exception being DCL 708, Dawn Chorus and Nightingale, where all the artwork is by Maurice Wilson. To view the record sleeves, click here.