Brian Wildsmith, children’s author and illustrator, has died aged 86.
Wildsmith died last Wednesday (31st August) in Grasse, France.
He was born on 22nd January 1930 and raised in a small mining village near Sheffield. He won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art, London where he studied for three years. He later taught maths at the Royal Military School of Music but gave it up so that he could pursue his passion for painting.
Wildsmith began working with Oxford University Press in the late 1950s when children’s publisher, Mabel George, commissioned him to illustrate 12 colour plates for Tales from the Arabian Nights. This was followed by ABC, published in 1961, which won the Kate Greenaway Medal.
Wildsmith’s "fruitful and creative" collaboration with OUP continued after George's retirement in 1974 with the appointment of Ron Heapy as publisher, a role which he held for more than 20 years. During this period Wildsmith produced some of his best-loved and best-known titles, including A Christmas Story and Cat on the Mat.
Since 2007 – the year that marked the centenary of children’s publishing at OUP – a number of Wildsmith’s books have been brought back into print, including his illustrated anthology of nursery rhymes, originally published in 1964, and his vivid imagining of The Twelve Days of Christmas, which first appeared in 1972.
During the course of his long-standing association with OUP, Wildsmith wrote and illustrated more than 80 books.
Author Michael Rosen said of Wildsmith: "Floods of colour exploding across the pages with a name to match: Wildsmith. He was a wild smith. I remember feeling envious: why hadn’t I had books as wild and lush as these?"
Picture-book maker, Catherine Rayner, has also long been inspired by Wildsmith's work. She said: "The balance he managed to create between the character in a storybook and the real creature is perfect. His illustrations provide a lively eyeful of activity and colour along with imaginative composition, which I find truly amazing."
A spokesperson for OUP said of Wildsmith: "He was an immensely thoughtful, compassionate, and perceptive man and these qualities touched all those at Oxford University Press who had the privilege to work with him over the years."
Wildsmith, who moved to France with his family in 1971, lost his wife, Aurélie, in 2015. He is survived by his four children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.