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BIOGRAPHY - Peter Ellenshaw (1913 - 2007)

Peter Ellenshaw

Peter Ellenshaw was a British artist who was mainly known for his work in the film industry. Ellenshaw was born in Britain in 1913. After failing to pass grammar school entrance exams, he went to work at a mechanic’s garage at the age of 14. He spent his spare time drawing and painting. It wasn’t long before he met Walter Percy Day, a special effects artist who had moved across the street from his family. Day had been working on films in France, including Abel Gance’s historical epic Napoléon. Day began to serve as a mentor to Ellenshaw. The two were drawn closer after Ellenshaw’s mother began working as Day housekeeper, leading to their marriage. By 1940, Ellenshaw had worked on several films, including The Thief of Baghdad, Britain’s first technicolor film. After serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, Ellenshaw returned to cinema, specializing in matte paintings. These are paintings typically made on glass panels and frequently used to provide backgrounds and other effects for live-action films. These techniques were utilized as late as the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in fantasy and science-fiction films like the original Star Wars trilogy.

Ellenshaw was an assistant matte artist on several films in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including Quo Vadis and Black Narcissus. However, he is best known for his work at Walt Disney Pictures. In 1947, Disney began work on Treasure Island, hiring Ellenshaw to create backgrounds and camera tricks. The production could only hire one sailing ship, but Ellenshaw’s matte paintings filled in the rest, recreating the eighteenth-century Caribbean entirely in Britain. Ellenshaw remained with Disney, moving to California to work on special effects for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett, Old Yeller, and The Swiss Family Robinson. He also took work outside of Disney, most notably on Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. However, he gained the most recognition in 1964, when he and two of his colleagues won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for their work on Mary Poppins. Ellenshaw helped create over a hundred matte paintings to bring Edwardian London to life on the screen. He became close friends with Walt Disney, whose 1966 death hit him particularly hard.

After Disney’s passing, Ellenshaw worked on fewer films, instead focusing on a new career painting landscapes. He still went back and created special effects paintings for various films, including Bedknobs & Broomsticks in 1971 as well as Dick Tracy in 1990. Because of his association with the film industry, Ellenshaw’s work is incredibly popular among cinema buffs and Disney fans. He was named a Disney Legend in 1993 alongside Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck. Ellenshaw passed away in 2007 at the age of 94.

Monet\'s Garden - Peter Ellenshaw
Peter Ellenshaw
(1913 - 2007)
Acrylic on canvas
36 x 63 inches
Signed and dated '83