Richard Chopping, a Legacy (1917-2008)
CommanderBond.net is sad to report the passing of Richard Chopping, the artist responsible for 9 of Ian Fleming’s James Bond dust jackets, as well as jackets for Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Dossier and John Gardner’s Licence Renewed.
Half a century after his first collaboration with Ian Fleming, Richard Chopping’s work still resonates. From the 2008 Royal Mail stamps to exibitions to book collections throughout the globe, Richard Chopping’s trompe l’oeil masterpieces are admired, collected and celebrated.
Although the partnership between Fleming and Chopping was not without its problems, the distinctive and award-winning results became touchstones of Bond imagery and had a far-reaching influence throughout the book industry.
Richard Wasey Chopping was born 14 April 1917 in Colchester Essex to a family known for their flour mills. Chopping attended Greshams boarding school in rural Norfolk where one of his teachers encouraged an interest in art.
Painting would become a calling, and with the suggestion from fellow artist and lifelong partner Denis Wirth-Miller, Chopping debuted two paintings at the Goupil Galleries in 1939.
Ann Fleming attended a Chopping exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in October 1956, and upon her return home remarked to her husband Ian that Chopping would be the perfect artist for his next book. Chopping and the author met at one of Ann’s parties, and Fleming comissioned the artist for what would become his most famous work, the dust jacket to From Russia, With Love.
Ian Fleming had long had the idea for combining a rose and a gun, even comissioning an unknown artist to create a crude acetate mock-up of the two elements for Live and Let Die in 1954.
Chopping recalled that Fleming was very specific about his vision for the dust jacket, including the exact model pistol (a sawed off Smith and Wesson .38 with a cutaway trigger guard), and a rose with a drop of dew. Fleming borrowed the pistol from Geoffrey Boothroyd for Chopping to use as reference, but in a strange twist of fate a murder occured that week with a similar gun. Scotland Yard called Fleming about the pistol just as Chopping was returning the gun. Thankfully it turned out to not to be the murder weapon.
When the book debuted in 1957, the spectacular dust jacket won rave reviews as well as awards. It was also the first jacket in the Bond series that would use the same artwork in the British and U.S. first editions.
Chopping would not do the jacket for the next book, Dr No, but he turned in another stellar design for Goldfinger in 1959. Once again, a rose was combined with a deadly element, in this case a skull with gold coins in the eye sockets. Chopping declared in a 2001 interview that the Goldfinger jacket was his favorite work in the series.
For the next jacket, neither Fleming nor Chopping could come up with a suitable idea. Chopping’s partner Denis suggested a hole in a piece of wood with a card underneath reminiscent of a private club. It has been rumored that the eye peering through the hole is Bond’s, but neither the artist nor the author explicitly stated that fact.
The jacket to Thunderball, in which Fleming specified a skeletal hand, was trouble-free in comparison with the legal hassles the contents of the book brought about.
As Bond’s popularity soared, Chopping asked for a royalty on each book, but that request was denied. So Chopping continually increased his fee, and he remembered using the payment from The Spy Who Loved Me dust jacket painting for a new washing machine and 2 tickets to Tangiers.
Chopping’s next work, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service proved to be troublesome for the artist because he felt that perspective was not his strong point. But Chopping had an even bigger challenge with You Only Live Twice, because for the first time he used a live model for the jacket, in this case a neighbor’s toad. The artist recalled he had to be careful that the toad would not hop on the painting while he was creating it.
Chopping’s expanded his canvas, so to speak, for the final work he collaborated with Fleming on The Man with The Golden Gun. Because Scramanga’s golden pistol was too long to confine to a single panel, the artwork extended to the back of the jacket. Apparently book sellers were not enamored with the experiment because it required them to open the book to display it.
Since Octopussy and The Living Daylights was published postumously, it allowed Chopping free reign, and so he filled the painting with his visual trademark, flies.
Publisher Jonathan Cape knew that Chopping’s association with Bond in the public’s mind was a strong one, so they used Chopping artwork for Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Dossier, and for James Bond’s literary resurrection in John Gardner’s Licence Renewed in 1981.
Sadly towards the end of his life Chopping became quite bitter about his association with Fleming and protested the violence in the books. The artist even claimed at one point that he would have made more as a lavatory attendant than he did from his Bond dust jacket paintings.
Although best known for his Bond work, Chopping’s artwork graced numerous other books, exhibition catalogs, and galleries. He wrote two novels of his own, The Fly (1965) and The Ring (1967). He is survived by his partner Denis Wirth-Miller.