The Berger Collection

Collection: James Ward, RA (1769-1859)

James Ward, RA (1769-1859)

James Ward belonged to the second generation after that most famous horse painter, George Stubbs. Following Stubbs’s death in 1806, Ward became the most important animal painter of his day. His beginnings were humble. Born in London, he was the son of a merchant who had fallen on hard times. As a result, he received little if any formal education. He apprenticed with his older brother William in William’s newly launched print-making business. The younger Ward excelled at the craft and was soon much in demand making mezzotints of paintings by the important artists of the day. In 1794, in his mid-twenties, Ward was appointed Engraver to the Prince of Wales. Around age thirty his career began to take off. He started working in oils and was quickly recognized as a talented painter of animals. About 1798 he was commissioned by the newly established Board of Agriculture to paint a series of two hundred pictures of the breeds of British farm animals. The project was never completed because the publisher ran out of money. But it brought Ward to the attention of a number of wealthy landowners, many of whom commissioned paintings from him. Despite these early successes, Ward continued to believe that he had missed out on the proper education for an artist, and undertook to study on his own well into his career. He joined an informal group of artists called the Sketching Society who met weekly to draw landscapes inspired by texts from classical literature. He also took on the traditional academic exercise of training his eye and his hand by copying antique sculpture, including the Elgin Marbles, the sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens which began arriving in London beginning in 1801. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, Ward had begun to exhibit frequently at the Royal Academy and in 1807 was made an associate member. He did not begin portraying horses until shortly after the death of George Stubbs in 1806, but by 1811 he was lauded in the pages of The Sporting Magazine as “the first of English animal painters now living.” That same year he was made a full member of the Royal Academy. In the 1820s Ward painted the equine portraits for which he is best known, including Marengo, dated 1829, the charger ridden by Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, and Adonis, the favorite charger of George III.