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Mary Tourtel (1897-1940)

Mary Tourtel (1897-1940)

Illustrating books from the turn of the century, Mary Tourtel created the character of Rupert Bear in 1920, in a charming style, and flung him ‘into a fairy-tale world of magic spells, ogres and flying witches, dragons and wicked wolves’
(Brian Stewart, 1997, page 9).

Mary Tourtel was born Mary Caldwell in Canterbury, Kent, on 28 January 1874. Caldwell was a family of stained-glass artists, who designed, restored and cared for much of the glass in Canterbury Cathedral, while one of Mary’s brothers, Edmund, was an animal painter and illustrator. She developed her own drawing skills at an early age and, following her general education at the Simon Langton School for Girls, studied at Canterbury’s Sidney Cooper School of Art, under Thomas Sidney Cooper himself. Inevitably, she specialised in animal drawing and became a children’s illustrator. This led her to meet, and marry, Herbert Tourtel, a senior editorial executive of the Daily Express, and she began her ‘Rupert’ strip in the Express in 1920. After her husband’s death in 1931, her drawing style became erratic and the stories were darker in tone. Failing eyesight finally led her to retire in 1935, and she was replaced by Alfred Bestall. She died at Canterbury Hospital on 15 March 1948.

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