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Monday, July 06, 2015

Harry Sheldon

Although for the most part Sheldon signed his work with only his surname, it was believed for many years that the artist's full name was Sidney Sheldon as it was given thus when Bonhams auctioned a great many Pan Books' art boards.

However, a closer look at the cover of Jean Overton Fuller's Born For Sacrifice (GP60, March 1957) shows the clear signature of Harry Sheldon—or more correctly H. Harry Sheldon, as it has also been credited.

Searching the net for anything about Sheldon, I noticed that there are a few other pieces of misinformation that has spread around the web: the BBC 'Your Paintings' website claims that Sheldon was born in 1923; and a Manchester Evening News obituary has appeared online with the date 17 February 2007, five years after Sheldon's death. Mutual reveals that "H. Harry Sheldon is a German visual artist who was born in 20th Century. Several works by the artist have been sold at auction."

Herbert Harry Sheldon was born on 23 June 1917 in Marple, Cheshire, the son of William Herbert Sheldon and his wife May (nee Willford), who were married the previous year. Harry had two younger brothers, Ronald Willford Sheldon (1919-2004) and Eric W. Sheldon (1922-1943).

Sheldon was one of four generations of family artists and studied at Manchester School of Art and under L. S. Lowry at Salford Technical School, Lancashire. At the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Coldstream Guards but was later commissioned into the 8th Gurkha Rifles.

In 1943, Lieutenant Sheldon was about to be invalided home from a Karachi hospital when his impromptu exhibition of artwork impressed General Claude Auchinleck, Commander in Chief, India, who persuaded him to stay in India as an official war artist. Auchinleck presented one of Sheldon's pictures—a bearded, turbaned Sikh in the Viceroy's Bodyguard—to Lord Louis Mountbatten, who immediately wrote to the artist, describing the gift as "a magnificent picture" which he was taking to be hung in Government House, Singapore, as a reminder of how much was owed to the Indian Army. Mountbattan also revealed that he had requested Sheldon's services for South East Asia Command; without consulting the artist, Auchinleck turned Mountbatten down. The letter remained one of Sheldon's prized possessions for the rest of his life and the portrait was later hung by Mountbatten at Broadlands.

Auchinleck sent Sheldon to Italy to draw lightning sketches of the Gurkhas in action in Italy. In 1945, he was flown back to London to arrange an exhibition of his war paintings. He left the services with the rank of Captain.

Sheldon's war art was described as graphically capturing the horror of war during the last years of the Raj. "He left behind a formidable legacy which included portraits of legendary Indian Army commanders," including Earl Mountbatten, Field-Marshall Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, General Sir Frederick Browning, Field Marshal Viscount Slim and all the Indian Army VCs, along with pictures of sketches showing the brutality of warfare.

His friend, art critic Sydney Reynolds, said that "Without doubt, Sheldon, a watercolourist, was the outstanding war artist of his time in that theatre; only the River Kwai sketches may be considered more thought-provoking and emotionally-charged." His artwork is now widely held in Indian Army and British military museums.

After the war, Sheldon held a number of one man shows in Delhi, Cairo and London, and frequently exhibited at the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours and Royal Society of Portrait Painters. It was probably his talent for portraits that earned him work at Pan Books in the early 1960s, his covers often featuring photorealistic figures. He painted a series of covers for Mazo de la Roche's family saga the Whiteoak's of Jalna but also found himself producing covers for crime thrillers which also incorporated a strong female element.

Sheldon, who was elected FRSA in 1953, lived in Berkhamsted, Herts., and continued to paint watercolours until his was about eighty. "He loved to paint people and scenes and even up to four years before his death, could be seen sitting at his easel in the high street in Berkhamsted where he lived," said Sidney Reynolds. "He never owned a car and used to exclude them from his urban scenes. He considered them noisy and unnecessary."

Sheldon, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease, died on 26 February 2002, aged 84. His wife, Joan (nee Aspinall), whom he married in 1940, predeceased him by two years. His son Paul E. Sheldon is considered one of the leading scraperboard artists in Europe.

In 2014, a newly-built retirement home in Berkhamsted was named Sheldon Lodge in his honour.

Obituaries: Manchester Evening News (dated 17 February 2007), The Scotsman (dated 7 June 2002).


Pan Books
GP60 Born for Sacrifice by Jean Overton Fuller (Mar 1957)
X89 Centenary at Jalna by Mazo de la Roche (Jun 1961)
M11 Angelique: The Marquise of the Angels by Sergeanne Golon (Jun 1961)
G371 The Passionate City by Ian Stuart Black (Aug 1961)
G506 The Female of the Species by Sapper (Nov 1961)
G510 You Can't Hit a Woman by Peter Cheyney (1961)
G517 The Origin of Evil by Ellery Queen (Dec 1961)
G519 The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister by Erle Stanley Gardner (Jan 1962)
X136 Morning at Jalna by Mazo de la Roche (Jul 1962)
X141 The Whiteoak Brothers by Mazo de la Roche (1962)
X157 Whiteoak Heritage by Mazo de la Roche (1962)
X159 Renny's Daughter by Mazo de la Roche (1962)
X257 The Case of the Sunbather's Diary by Erle Stanley Gardner (Nov 1963)
X291 The Case of the Terrified Typist by Erle Stanley Gardner (Mar 1964)
G667 The Urgent Hangman by Peter Cheyney (May 1964)
G680 I'll Say She Does! by Peter Cheyney (Aug 1964)

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