Thelwell’s humour and artistic talent on show at Mottisfont

December 7, 2018

Images © Norman Thelwell: That Spring Feeling; Tumbling Bay, Timsbury; The Little Farmer Set; Into Something Big 

Mottisfont’s first exhibition of 2019 will be a welcome return to the world of Norman Thelwell, featuring plump ponies, local landscapes, and social satire.

There’ll be old favourites on show, including the antics of iconic characters Penelope and her mischievous pony, Kipper. The National Trust property’s exhibition also includes other astute and amusing observations on country life, satirical cartoons, and breath-taking landscapes. Some of this work has never been shown publically before, including a selection of Thelwell’s early wartime sketches, which gave him a good foundation for illustrating people, animals and landscapes.

Mottisfont’s exhibition takes a close look at Thelwell’s artistic life, from the popular cartoons which gave him international fame, to his watercolours depicting the English countryside, particularly the landscape of south Hampshire near Mottisfont – painted purely for pleasure. Both sets of work reveal a deep-seated love of the environment and a desire to protect it.

First created for Punch in the early 1950s and published extensively since, Thelwell’s pony cartoons are still easily recognisable today. Thelwell drew the endearing characters Penelope and Kipper in hundreds of humorous scenarios, from ungainly jumps to the destruction of country fairs. These cartoons were immensely popular, leading to the production of books and merchandise. As well as pony illustrations, Mottisfont’s exhibition includes designs for book covers and ceramic models.

There’ll also be a selection of Thelwell’s other humorous cartoons with astute and amusing observations of country life and pursuits, from the country houses to sailing and fishing.

David Thelwell, son of Norman Thelwell, said:

“My father would have been absolutely delighted to see how much his work is still enjoyed. To hear laughter among the large crowds in the middle of winter at the last exhibition was very pleasing. Thanks to Mottisfont, this second exhibition is a great tribute to that success and hopes are high that it will again be much enjoyed by the many visitors and ‘Thelwell’ fans.”

One of the reasons Thelwell’s cartoons have endured is the skill in which they’re rendered: humorous situations take place in beautifully detailed landscapes. Exhibited alongside the well-known cartoons is a selection of Thelwell’s paintings, in which his extraordinary talent – and love of the local area – is clear to see. In contrast to the cartoons, which was how he earned a living, these paintings were a way of relaxing and enjoying his surroundings.

These works include Thelwell’s paintings of Mottisfont, Romsey Abbey, the River Test at Timsbury and other local landscapes. Many of them have never been shown in public before. Mottisfont will also have some of Thelwell’s paint materials on show.

Thelwell’s passion for nature is evident in his satirical cartoons, many of which parody modern living and pressures on the environment. He used satire to convey serious messages about the need to preserve the natural world; touching on the EU, farming methods and other environmental issues, many of these still have poignancy today.

Families visiting in February half term can enjoy a Country Capers activity trail inspired by Thelwell’s illustrations, and the exhibition display will include child-friendly labels. Mottisfont’s shop will stock a wide range of Thelwell merchandise.

Louise Govier, General Manager of Mottisfont, said:

“We are so pleased to be able to show a new range of Norman Thelwell’s beautiful local landscapes and hilarious illustrations here at Mottisfont. He was extraordinarily prolific, so there are many new treasures to be discovered, as well as some very firm favourites. His skill as a watercolourist is superb, and his love of the Hampshire landscape shines through. The best thing though is how funny his illustrations are – it’s wonderful to walk through the gallery and see so many smiles.”

Thelwell: Laughter and Landscapes will be on display from Saturday 5 January – Monday 22 April 2019. Mottisfont’s gallery opens at 11am and closes at 5pm (4pm until 3 February). Normal property admission price only, free for National Trust members. For visitors unable to access the second floor gallery, Mottisfont has digital versions of exhibitions on iPads, which are available on lower levels.

For more information about the exhibition, visit or call 01794 340757. For more information about Mottisfont visit mottisfont.

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