The animal painter James Ward lived long, his life spanning the time from the early British School – he was a contemporary of Flaxman and Northcote while Benjamin West was PRA, and several years older than Turner – through to the Victorian era. Indeed, the Art Journal stated only three years after his death that ‘the history of this veteran painter and most estimable man carries us back to a period far beyond the recollection of any living being’.
Ward was born in London, suffering a tough, poverty-stricken childhood which lead him to be withdrawn from school by the age of seven. At age 12 he was apprenticed to an engraver, who for one and a half years used him mainly as an errand boy. He then received a proper training under the tutorship of his older brother. George Morland came to live with the Ward family for a time, and had a great influence on James Ward, though the latter acknowledged this only with reluctance, writing that he had ‘witnessed little to elevate the youthful mind’ in Morland’s work. Ward’s move to painting came after he was able to perfectly replace the missing portion of a damaged engraving that passed through his hands. He began to produce paintings, so closely modelled on the style of Morland – the only painter he had ever studied – that dealers were able to sell the young man’s work under Morland’s name. However, he soon turned to the old masters for inspiration, and continued painting and engraving with such success that in 1794 he was appointed painter and engraver to the Prince of Wales (later George IV).
An important and lucky break came when Ward was engaged by the President of the Agricultural Society to paint the portrait of his favorite cow. Ward undertook the commission with enthusiasm, and was rewarded with a long term project on behalf of a publisher to illustrate all the British breeds of cow. Ward travelled the whole country, producing more than 200 cow portraits, and meeting everyone who was anyone in the cow appreciation world. These contacts opened up a new world of commissions, of horses – pedigree, sporting, hunting, and racing animals – and these formed the bulk of his paintings for some years thereafter, though cows were still important, as shown by his Rubenesque cattle paintings following his exposure to the works of that master.
Ward also branched out into battle scenes, mythological and religious paintings (typically always ready to introduce livestock when the subject permitted). Highlights of his career included The Triumph of Wellington, for which the British Institution awarded him a prize of 1000 guineas, and his monumental The Bull, exhibited at the Crystal Palace and then in the Exhibition of 1862. He became ARA in 1807 and RA in 1811, and was actively painting until the very end of his long life. He therefore overlapped at the Academy with that other great painter of cows, T. Sidney Cooper, who was elected ARA in 1847 (and incidentally was even longer-lived than Ward).
Examples of Ward’s pictures may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A small but good landscape with naturalistic foreground is in the gallery in Hove. Pictures in the possession of most galleries seem to remain tucked away in reserve collections.
Categorised in: Uncategorised
This post was written by joecollinson