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The art of Black Beauty celebrated in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 17:01 31 July 2017

Black Beauty, illustrated by Cecil Aldin

Black Beauty, illustrated by Cecil Aldin

Cecil Aldin

One of the most famous fictional horses of all time is being celebrated on his 140th birthday, with an exhibition of fragile rediscovered illustrations

Black Beauty, illustrated by Cecil Aldin Black Beauty, illustrated by Cecil Aldin

Black Beauty was created in Norfolk 140 years ago. The book, telling the sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking story of a working horse, was written near Norwich, published by Jarrold and has been in print ever since.

Now the illustrations from the 1912 edition of Anna Sewell’s beloved book will be on show from July through to November, in the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.

They are by Cecil Aldin, who was famous for his pictures of dogs and horses. He illustrated the 1910 edition of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and in 1912 was commissioned to paint 18 watercolours for a new edition of Black Beauty.

After the book was published the paintings were carefully stored away – and lay unseen for 70 years until they were rediscovered.

Maya, one of the horses at Redwings, Aylsham Maya, one of the horses at Redwings, Aylsham

The watercolours were framed and briefly put on show but can only be displayed for a short while to preserve their vibrant colours.

Thirteen of the lovely illustrations will be on show as part of Cecil Aldin: The Art of Black Beauty, which tells the story of the paintings, the artist, Anna Sewell and her novel, and Jarrold’s publishing history.

It is a rare chance to see the delicate watercolours and Mel Cook, of Visit Norwich, said “2017 is VisitEngland’s Year of Literary Heroes and we are delighted that the 140th anniversary of the publication of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell falls in this year.

“Even though the publishing arm of Jarrolds no longer exists, it holds a large archive from its printing days and we’re so lucky that this collection can be made available for everyone to enjoy.”

The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell (photo: Fisheye Images) The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell (photo: Fisheye Images)

Anna was born in Great Yarmouth in 1820. Her mother, Mary, was a successful children’s author, and Anna began by helping her. She wrote Black Beauty at her home in Old Catton, near Norwich, and it was published just a year before she died.

Anna had her own much-loved pony and the book is credited with an outpouring of concern for working horses and the ending of some of the cruellest treatment.

Jarrold will join the 140th anniversary celebrations with events including competitions for children, a special August afternoon tea and the exclusive sale of Woodforde’s Black Beauty beer in the deli department. It still sells a hard back edition of Black Beauty, with illustrations by Cecil Aldin.

A real beauty

A real-life black beauty lives at the Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Aylsham.

Maya was nicknamed Black Beauty for her striking looks and triumph over adversity.

Just like her fictional namesake, who experienced hardship and cruelty at the hands of uncaring humans, Maya endured a harrowing start to life. But after being rescued nursed back to health at Redwings her dazzling looks and friendly nature soon made Maya a favourite with visitors – and with sponsors who can help adopt a horse and then visit for free and attend their birthday parties. Aylsham’s mob of mini Shetland ponies, The Gangsters, host a joint party on Sunday, July 23.

Norfolk based Redwings has visitor centres in Aylsham, and at Caldecott, near Yarmouth, and looks after more than 1,500 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.

The sanctuaries will host a series of specially-themed weekends throughout the summer with the chance to meet some of the most character-ful and inspirational residents.

Redwings’ annual summer club also returns, offering children aged seven to 11 free, fun and educational activities every Friday.

The Redwings headquarters at Hapton, near Long Stratton, will be open on Sunday, July 23, 10am-4pm. The family day will include tours of the horse hospital, and the chance to meet some of the 350 horses, donkeys and mules who live at Hapton, plus demonstrations from Norfolk Fire and Rescue of how they rescue animals from tricky situations.

Redwings Aylsham and Redwings Caldecott are open every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10am-4pm Entry and parking free, but there may be a small charge for some activities.


Cecil Aldin: The Art of Black Beauty, runs at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell from Tuesday, July 25 to Saturday, November 25. Entry to the museum is free for the first two weeks of the exhibition courtesy of the 700th commemoration of the Norwich Freemen.



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