One of the unexpected pleasures I get when I visit an art gallery to see a specific exhibition is that having observed the exhibition I always like to walk around and see the paintings in the gallery’s permanent collection and it is then that you unearth some gems. When I visited the York Art Gallery to take in the William Etty exhibition I gave myself time to have a look at some of the gallery’s other paintings and it also gave me a reason to escape the clutches of the semi-naked live art performer (see My Daily Art Display of December 12th). It was during this perusal of the works that I came across a painting by Edward Matthew Ward and it is his painting entitled Hogarth’s Studio in 1739 that I am featuring in today’s edition of My Daily Art Display.
Edward Matthew Ward was born in Pimlico, London in 1816 and has been classified as an English narrative painter. Narrative paintings are an art form that tell a story. This is a long tradition in the world of art and probably dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. Popular trends in narrative painting have included history paintings which incorporates the likes of biblical, mythological, and historical themes and which were popular during the period of the Renaissance to the 18th century. We have already seen in earlier blogs of mine the moralizing story series of William Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode ; and then in the 19th-century the narrative art turned more towards anecdotal and sentimental narratives, usually depicting domestic scenes. In narrative paintings of the 19th century, the title became an important part of the artwork, often explaining the message.
Edward Ward’s parents encouraged his early interest in art and he was sent to a number of art schools, including that of John Cawse, the portraitist and history painter. Ward was a very talented artist even at an early age and even won an award from the Society of Arts at the age of 14. At the age of eighteen he exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy and the following year, 1835, he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy Schools. At the age of twenty he set off from England and went to Rome where he remained for three years and it was whilst he was there that he achieved another artistic award. This time it was a silver medal presented to him by the Rome Academy of St Luke for his work entitled Cimbaue and Giotto, which he sent back to London and which was exhibited in the 1839 R.A. exhibition.
He returned to England in 1839 but on the way back Ward visited Munich to learn the technique of modern fresco painting. The reason behind that was that he wanted to take part in the competition to decorate the Palace of Westminster. In London, the old Houses of Parliament had been destroyed by fire in 1834 and the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster were built. Competitions were held for appropriate designs (‘cartoons’), with a number of leading artists commissioned to take part. To organise and oversee this project, a Royal Commission had been appointed in 1841, the President of which was Queen Victoria’s new consort Prince Albert. In all there were three annual competitions. The competition rules were that each artist would submit a full sized cartoon (preparatory drawing) with specimens of fresco or other techniques suitable for murals. The design of their submitted work had to be scenes from British History or Literature or personifications of abstract representations of Religion, Justice and the Spirit of Chivalry. Ward submitted his cartoon entitled Boadicea in the 1843 competition, but it was unsuccessful. However nine years later, in 1852, mainly because of his much admired historical works, he was commissioned to produce eight pictures for the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, on subjects drawn from the English Civil War. These were to depict parallel episodes on the two sides in the Civil War. Ward’s paintings depicted the opposed figures, as if confronting one another, across the corridor. By now Ward’s work was becoming very popular and he was never short of commissions.
In 1843, the twenty-seven year old Ward met Henrietta Ward the eleven year old daughter of George Raphael Ward, the artist and printmaker and Mary Webb Ward the miniaturist. Henrietta was besotted with Ward and despite the great age difference they eloped, with the help of Ward’s friend the author Wilkie Collins, and married in 1848 when she was just sixteen years of age. Henrietta’s parents were devastated and angered by this turn of events and her mother never forgave her and in fact, disinherited her. The couple went on to have eight children, one of whom, a son, Leslie, was later to become a portraitist and well-known caricaturist and cartoonist, who had many of his works printed in magazines, such as Vanity Fair. Henrietta although kept busy with her large brood of children was also a noted historical painter and her paintings of children, for which she used her own as models, were also very popular.
Edward Ward was very much influenced by the work of the English narrative artist William Hogarth and during the 1860’s he would mimic Hogarth’s style in his works which depicted incidents from British history. Ward’s life changed dramatically in the late 1870’s when he started to suffer from a painful and debilitating illness which caused him to have prolonged bouts of depression. In January 1879, aged 62, Edward Matthew Ward committed suicide.
The featured painting in My Daily Art Display today is entitled Hogarth’s Studio in 1739. Edward Ward completed this oil on canvas work in 1863. The setting for this painting, as the title implies, is the studio of the great English painter William Hogarth. Hogarth’s completed portrait of Captain Thomas Coram is seen on display. Coram was a philanthropic sea captain who had established the Foundling Hospital in London, in 1741. It was a children’s home established for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.” Although the word “hospital” is in the title of the painting, the establishment itself was not a medical facility. It simply indicated that it was a place of “hospitality” to those children who had fallen on hard times. The Foundling’s Hospital had a number of artistic connections. William Hogarth, who was childless, had a long association with the Hospital and was a founding Governor. It was he who designed the children’s uniforms and the establishment’s coat of arms and Hogarth and his wife Jane fostered foundling children. Hogarth also decided to set up a permanent art exhibition in the new buildings, and encouraged other artists to produce work for the hospital. Many of Hogarth’s contemporaries, such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Richard Wilson and Francis Hayman gave works to the establishment.
We see numerous children in the painting. All in their best clothes having come from the Foundling Hospital to Hogarth’s studio, to see the painting. To the left of the painting we see Hogarth’s wife, Jane standing at the table, slicing up the fruit cake. The little boy standing by Mrs. Hogarth has no time for the painting which is on display; all he is concerned about are the cakes! Hiding behind the painting we see the artist Hogarth and the subject of the work, Thomas Coram. Look at the little girl who stands in front of the portrait peering up hesitantly at it, as if it is the real Captain Coram. Another girl wearing a red-hooded cloak sits to the right of the painting. She, we must presume, is crippled and unable to stand for long periods of time as her crutches lie on the floor next to her. The girl to her right dressed in a sumptuous blue dress animatedly tells her all about the painting. Take time and look at the wonderful facial expressions of the children. I love how the artist has incorporated a multi-paneled window in the background and through it we catch a glimpse of a garden. On the floor we see a globe and a book which Hogarth has used in his painting of the seafarer presumably symbolizing Coram’s travels and knowledge.
It is a beautiful painting and but for my visit to the Etty exhibition in the York Art Gallery, I may never have set eyes on the work.