“In 2008, Judith Kerr approached Seven Stories to house her archive. This extraordinary archive, the most significant collection of artwork by a single illustrator in the Seven Stories Collection, spans 70 years, and includes childhood paintings, drawings from her student days, and finished artwork for most of her published books, including The Tiger Who Came to Tea.”
Click here to explore Tiger, Mog and Pink Rabbit - A Judith Kerr Retrospective: Digital Exhibition
Judith began drawing from an early age, and the childhood drawings in the Seven Stories Collection show that, even as an eight- and nine-year-old she had an incredible eye for capturing stories in pictures. Some of these drawings were done when Judith was still living in Germany, and were carefully kept and preserved by her mother as they travelled across Europe. As a child, Judith’s mother encouraged her to create illustrated stories as gifts for members of her family, as she had no money to buy presents. Several of these illustrated stories also survive in the collection, and show Judith’s gift for storytelling through words and pictures. They also show off her language skills – some are written in German, some in French, some in English, and some in a strange mixture of all three languages!
Much of Judith’s inspiration for her books comes from her own life, with a little added magic! The Tiger Who Came to Tea began life as a bedtime story for Judith’s daughter, and Mog, who first appeared in Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970), was based on the family’s first cat. When creating animal characters, Judith always starts by observing the real thing, and sketching from life wherever possible. If a book involves monkeys or tigers or elephants, this may involve a few trips to the zoo. Once she has lots of sketches, Judith pins them up on the wall of her studio so that she always has them in front of her as she works on each book.
The Out of the Hitler Time trilogy is a semi-autobiographical series of novels inspired by Judith's own story. The first book in the trilogy, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971), tells the story of her family’s escape from Germany and their travels through Europe, through the eyes of Judith’s nine-year-old alter-ego, Anna. The two sequels follow Anna and her family through the war and into early married life.
Judith’s thirty-sixth book, One Night in the Zoo, was published in 2009 and, as she approaches her 90th birthday, she shows no signs of slowing down!
In her own words...
In 2009, after receiving Judith’s archive, Seven Stories launched an exhibition celebrating her life and work. Judith said of the exhibition,
"I was in a total tizz about it. They [Seven Stories] had all my stuff, and I thought, suppose they choose all the really dreadful ones – there are always some – and then suppose they enlarge them… Then I saw it and it was wonderful: so imaginative, beautifully done and very moving. There's a lot about my life - they've even got a photo of my father which I'd never seen!"
From The Tiger who Came to Tea to Mog & Pink Rabbit; A Judith Kerr Retrospective Exhibition, ran at Seven Stories from September 2009 until June 2010. This exhibition went on successful tour around the UK and included a period on display in Germany; Judith's country of birth. Tiger, Mog & Pink Rabbit: A Judith Kerr Retrospective Exhibition has returned once again to Seven Stories where it will relaunch from 21 September 2013 until March 2014.
Judith Kerr was born in Berlin, Germany in 1923. Her father, Alfred Kerr, a famous drama critic, poet and broadcaster, of Jewish origin, was openly critical of Hitler and the Nazis. This meant that the whole family was in danger as the Nazis gained power. In 1933, when Judith was nine years old, the family fled Berlin just in time - her father was due to be arrested the very next day. The family traveled from Germany through Switzerland to France, and finally settled in England, where Judith eventually became a naturalized British Citizen.
Judith left school to train as a shorthand typist and went on to work for the Red Cross during the Second World War, helping to organise jumpers and bandages for the armed forces. After the war she secured a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts, in London. She then worked as an artist and teacher, before joining the BBC as a television scriptwriter and editor. It was at the BBC that she met her husband, Nigel Kneale, writer of the famous Quatermass series.
With two young children of her own, Judith’s career took a new direction, as she discovered a talent for writing and illustrating picture books. Her first book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, was published in 1968 and has become one of the most popular picture books of all time, remaining in print ever since it was first published.