Richard Chopping – OG and Bond Illustrator
In the light of the much-hyped release of the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace on 31st October (2008) I thought it would be of interest to OGs that the illustrator of many of the covers of the books was also at Gresham’s (OSH & Kenwyn 1928-35) Encouraged to paint by his art teacher, Richard was a contemporary of Benjamin Britten, a lifelong friend, and Donald Maclean. He contributed a charming poem, an ode to a dragonfly, to the Grasshopper magazine in 1931, perhaps showing the beginnings of his passion for the natural world which he later went to illustrate so beautifully in much of his work.
Chopping’s association with Bond author Ian Fleming began when he was exhibiting some trompe l’oeil works at a London gallery when his friend Francis Bacon showed Fleming’s wife around. The ensuing cover of From Russia with Love (1957) was similarly in trompe l’oeil style, the imagery of rose and dew drop being specified by Fleming, the Smith & Wesson revolver lent by the author. Chopping was to design nine covers over the next decade, each watercolour painting taking a month to complete. Although well paid for his commissions, the artist received no royalties on book sales and regretted allowing Ian Fleming to keep his original paintings.
The striking image of a skull holding a rose in its teeth on the cover of Goldfinger was Chopping’s favourite. Ironically, it was also the first Bond book he read, and he was noted as saying he felt there was enough violence in the world already without characters such as Bond glamorising it. Sadly, towards the end of his life the painter claimed to be sick of Bond, claiming he had been ‘swindled all along’ and that he would have preferred to have been remembered for his other work. Several of his covers appeared on a set of centenary stamps and the paintings were shown in a Bond exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
The artist’s training began at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing and his first commission, for a book on British butterflies, followed in 1943. Penguin soon signed him up for a 22 volume series on British wild flowers which was abruptly cancelled after seven years work. Chopping went on to teach plant illustration at Colchester School of Art, and from 1961 worked at the Royal College of Art teaching ceramics and textiles to students such as Zandra Rhodes.
Chopping also taught creative writing at the Royal College and was quoted as saying he considered himself a writer more than a painter by this time. He was well established as an author and illustrator of natural history and children’s books, the latter including The Tailor and the Mouse and Mr Postlethwaite’s Reindeer, stories which the BBC were to broadcast. Two novels were published in the 60’s, The Fly, and The Ring, and the artist continued to exhibit his paintings, latterly at the New Art Centre in London in 1977, and at Aldeburgh in 1979. Commissions for paintings included a still life for Prince Ludwig of Hesse and a portrait of Lord Astor.
Richard Chopping lived in the artists’ community at Wivenhoe, Essex, from 1944 with his partner Denis Wirth-Miller. His final years were blighted by sight problems, but although he could not see to paint, he managed to keep on writing as best he could. Chopping died, aged 91, on 17 April 2008. In his last years he had kindly donated some first editions of his book covers, including a number of Bond classics, and some paintings to Gresham’s.