Richard Chopping, a well known figure in the art world of the 1950s and 60s is auctioning off his last printer’s proofs and an autographed first edition of Thunderball at Sotheby’s on Thursday, July 10th, 10:30am, saying he has “had enough of the whole thing.”
He was commissioned by Fleming to produce his famous series of designs for the Bond novels following an exhibition at the Hanover Galleries in 1956.
The artist Francis Bacon, exhibiting downstairs at the gallery, took his friend Ann Fleming, who reported back to Ian that “you ought to get (Chopping) to do your next book jacket.” Chopping was subsequently invited to the Flemings’ house in Victoria Square, where Fleming invited him to paint the cover of From Russia, With Love, and the partnership was born.
Chopping described Fleming as “charming, but horrid”, indicating that their partnership wasn’t exactly plain sailing, with the author laying down strict and sometimes impossible instructions as to what should be included, nevertheless, the jackets are some of the most celebrated of post-war British fiction.
Fleming himself described Chopping as the only English master’ in the art of the trompe l’œil technique. A French term literally meaning “trick the eye”, trompe l’œil is a style of painting which gives the appearance of three-dimensional, photographic realism.
In the cover for From Russia, With Love, Chopping pictured a sawn-off .38 Smith & Wesson revolver that belonged to Geoffrey Boothroyd, a gun expert who inspired the character of Q in the novels.
The painter is reported to be happy to let go of his last connection with Fleming, and to close the door on his part in creating the image of the world’s most famous fictional spy. He said “Mr Fleming was not a nice man to work for. He was mean. I have been swindled all along the line.”
Mr Chopping remains bitter that he was not paid a commission on the novels sold, and that the watercolour paintings he produced for ten successive Bond novels became the property of Fleming and have passed into private ownership.
“They would be worth a great deal of money now. They were passed into Fleming’s family when he died and then sold. I borrowed some of them for a retrospective exhibition in Aldeburgh, but I don’t even know who has got them now.”
Mr Chopping said the popularity of the distinctive book covers made it difficult for him to sell his work elsewhere as his style became associated with the million-selling books.
This is truly a sad end to a partnership that saw the production of memorable work, the covers of the Chopping editions are some of the most famous and celebrated pieces of Bond artwork in the world.