A rare watercolour painting from The Jungle Book has gone on display at the author’s family home, 130 years after the much-loved story was published.

The Return of the Buffalo Herd, dated 1901, is one of just four illustrations known to have survived from the original set of 16 painted by the Detmold brothers for Rudyard Kipling’s best known tale.

It can now be seen at Bateman’s in Burwash, East Sussex, which was a sanctuary to the celebrated writer.

The Argus: Bateman'sBateman's (Image: National Trust)

The Detmold twins were prolific book illustrators in the first half of the twentieth century. This illustration is signed with the monogram ‘EJD’ in black within a green circle, meaning it was created by Edward Julius Detmold (1883-1957).

The dark sentiment of the illustration lends a surprising contrast to lighter, modern interpretations of the story. It depicts a post-climactic scene, where protagonist Mowgli returns a herd of buffalo back to the village after using them to trigger a stampede that crushes his foe, the murderous tiger Shere Khan.

The Argus: A close up of the paintingA close up of the painting (Image: National Trust)

Kipling wrote at this action-packed moment: “The torrent of black horns, foaming muzzles, and staring eyes whirled down the ravine like boulders in flood time…The terrible charge of the buffalo-herd, against which no tiger can hope to stand.”

Hannah Miles, collections and house manager at Bateman’s, which is run by the National Trust, said: “Two of the four watercolours known to survive are in private collections. The other, ‘Kaa the Python’ by Charles Maurice Detmold (1883-1908) is part of the collection held at the Natural History Museum.


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“We’re delighted therefore to be able to put The Return of the Buffalo Herd on display at Bateman’s, exactly 130 years after the story was published. It will provide a rare chance for fans of the much-loved book to discover and experience the story’s darker origins as it was in Kipling’s day.”

Before arriving at Bateman’s, the illustration has been carefully cleaned by Louise Drover, specialist art on paper conservator. Louise also created an exact replica of the frame that is believed to have been used when the painting was first exhibited in London.

The Argus: The illustration in The Jungle BookThe illustration in The Jungle Book (Image: National Trust)

“I’ve been lucky in my 30-year career to work on many beautiful, and unique watercolours,” she said.

“It’s been particularly exciting though to care for one of the original artworks created for such a famous, much-loved story.

“I used carefully selected water-based techniques for cleaning and treatment. This included humidifying the watercolour, to peel away the old canvas lining. I also ‘washed’ the paper, by placing it on a vacuum table and spraying water through the front.

“Japanese tissue was used to make small repairs and the tone was evened out through gentle swabbing and minor re-touching with pure pigment watercolours and chalks. I hope visitors to Bateman’s are as enchanted by the artwork as I was.”

The watercolour is presumed to show Rama, the great herd bull, in the foreground, his “long, backward-sweeping horns and savage eyes” staring back on the plain with an almost melancholic gaze. Measuring around a metre by 75cm, it will be displayed under special lights to highlight the original colours, details and feel.

The Detmold twins were just 18 when they were commissioned to illustrate ‘The Jungle Book’, having been showcasing their art in public since their early teens. Despite their professional success, the twins’ personal lives were tainted by suffering and, ultimately, tragedy, with both taking their own lives, Charles in 1908 and Edward later in 1957.