James Ward

James Ward

Biography of James Ward ( 1769-1859 )

The son of a fruit merchant based in London, James Ward left school at a very early age, even before he could read and write. At the age of 9, he already had to work, washing bottles for 4 shillings a week to help his family. He began to learn engraving at 12, in the same studio than his brother William, 3 years older. In the workshop of John Raphael Smith, he developed his artistic sense and soon mastered the mezzotint which allowed him to reproduce the works of famous artists. He engraved works from old masters as well as his famous contemporary painters, Gainsborough and Reynolds. 

To cover up the absence of artistic education, Ward followed lessons of anatomy and drawing which complemented his sense of observation developed through engraving. The young artist began to paint and produce his own compositions in 1790. Until the beginning of the century, he painted scenes of genre whose style was strongly influenced by his brother-in-law George Morland.

At that time, the Board of Agriculture ordered him to make an inventory of different breeds of animals in Great Britain. Ward traveled the country and made over 200 drawings. He sometimes sold some of them, but kept most of them, which he used years later for his paintings. During this long trip, he has been very sensible to landscapes whose romanticism echoed his sensibility. 

In 1803, Ward had the opportunity to view Peter Paul Rubens' Steen's Castle, a painting recently acquired by Sir George Beaumont and now housed in the National Gallery. The discovery of this painting had a great influence on Ward's technique, which became then more colorful. He became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1807 before becoming a full member in 1811. It was a consecration for the 42 years old painter.

Ward ranked among the leading artists of the British Romantic movement, particularly in his depiction of horses and his dramatic landscapes. Admired by Delacroix and Géricault, Ward became disillusioned with the art world and retired to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire in 1830. He continued to exhibit but led a hermit's life until his death in 1859, secluded in his cottage far from the hustle and bustle of London. 

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