Fresh out of school, with no scholastic achievements to recommend him, David Shepherd applied for a place at the Slade School of Art in London. The Slade did him the biggest favour of his life by telling him that he had no talent for art. Instead, Shepherd, the artist and conservationist, who has died aged 86, took to painting meticulous pictures of railway engines, aircraft and – the real breakthrough – wildlife, especially his trademark African elephant bull, facing the viewer head-on with ears spread wide. A picture of this beast, alone or with its fellows, might be called The Men of Etosha, or Dusty Evening, or Elephant Heaven, or even, as in his bestseller, Wise Old Elephant. It didn’t much matter. The reproductions sold hugely.
Shepherd was, some said, Britain’s Tretchikoff, with Wise Old Elephant his Chinese Girl, and this was intended as a compliment. Certainly, he became immensely rich and helped to raise more than £8m for his other great passion – wildlife conservation – initially through donating painting sales proceeds to charities such as the World Wildlife Fund, and latterly through the efforts of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which he set up in 1984. The charity campaigns to protect endangered species, and combat poaching and its trade. Read more