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January 23, 2012

Beloved Artist Dies

It was with sadness that we recently learned of the death of world-famous illustrator Ronald Searle. Better known, perhaps, through his work than by his name, Searle was responsible for several well-known collections of satirical drawings. The doyennes of Britain’s many Pony Clubs and the students of the fictional St. Trinian’s School for Girls – the famous Belles of St. Trinian’s – were all on the receiving end of his wicked pen.

But for long-time Hbc associates Searle will ever be associated with the illustrations he created for the madcap nonsense history of the Company commissioned for the 300th anniversary in 1970: The Great Fur Opera, Annals of the Hudson's Bay Company 1670-1970. Written by Kildare Dobbs, Searle was an obvious choice as illustrator, his manic, graphic style and wry comic sensibility the perfect foil to Dobbs’ satiric text.

Hbc holds over 50 original Searle drawings, prepared for the book, as part of its Corporate Art Collection. The vast majority are in his trademark black and white, pen and ink. But a few include the use of colour, including the cover image which depicts a trio of pinkly naked animals offering up their skins for trade at the an Hbc post.

In the 40-plus years since the publication of The Great Fur Opera successive generations of Hbc associates have rediscovered the charm of Searle’s work. For a lucky few, originals from the Corporate Collection adorn the walls of their workspace at one of our Head Office locations. But Searle continues to inspire in other ways.

The Hbc Collections design team has put Searle’s work on t-shirts and tote bags while the Gift Card team used his rendering of a moose with Hbc coat of arms antlers as one of its new card designs for the Holiday 2011 season. Both of which testify to the enduring appeal of Searle’s images.

Searle died in his native England Dec. 30, 2011. For more on his life, see his obituary in The Telegraph.