Charles Tunnicliffe’s upbringing on a small farm in Cheshire instilled in him a deep appreciation of nature and the countryside. As a youth he spent hours sketching all aspects of farm life. His prodigious talent was quickly recognised and resulted in a scholarship to the local Macclesfield School of Art and later, to the Royal College in London. Here he studied etching under Sir Frank Short and Malcolm Osborne.


In 1928 Tunnicliffe returned to Cheshire with his soon-to-be wife, Winifred. It was she who, in 1929, encouraged him to submit some trial illustrations to the publishers of Henry Williamson’s masterpiece, Tarka the Otter. The wood engravings he produced were met with huge enthusiasm and their success led to further commissions to illustrate Williamson’s texts and well over one hundred other books over the subsequent decades.

The decline in sales of etchings in the late 1920s and the success of Tarka drove Tunnicliffe ever more towards wood engraving as a graphic medium. He had adapted to it very quickly and the speed and proficiency with which he engraved his blocks were quite remarkable. He told the publishers of A Book of Birds (1937) that he expected to complete between seventy and eighty engravings within three months! His large independent prints, those included in the Memorial Portfolios, were produced between 1934 and the mid-1950s.

By the time Tunnicliffe was elected a full member of the Royal Academy in 1954 he had become recognised as one of the foremost wildlife artists of the twentieth century. He was awarded the OBE in 1978, shortly before his death the following year.