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James Ward RA (1769 - 1859)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

James Ward was born in 1769 in London, the son of a fruit merchant. One of five children - another of whom, William, became an associate of the Royal Academy - Ward did not attend school and instead was apprenticed to an engraver from the age of twelve. This training revealed his natural artistic talents and during his early career he established himself as a successful mezzotinter, reproducing works by other artists.

Ward started painting his own compositions around 1790 and, at first, was greatly influenced stylistically by his brother-in-law, the artist George Morland (1763-1804). After seeing Rubens’ Chateau de Steen in 1803, Ward’s painting style also incorporated Rubensian elements. He was an active observer of the natural world and studied animal and human anatomy. Ward became a respected animal-painter, often depicting animals on a colossal scale. He enjoyed a healthy business painting animals commissioned by members of the merchant classes, gentry and nobility.

Having been elected to the Royal Academy as a full member in 1811, Ward sought to diversify his subjects, and in the decades that followed, he produced renowned landscape, religious and history paintings. Ward also received significant public commissions relating to the Napoleonic Wars, notably producing The Waterloo Allegory (1815-21) to commemorate the victory of Wellington over Napoleon, for the British Institution.

A number of personal tragedies caused Ward to move from London to Hertfordshire in 1830 and, in his later years, he spent most of his time producing religious paintings although he still painted and submitted animal pictures to the RA Annual (now Summer) Exhibition. He continued to paint and exhibit until 1852, but the calibre of his work declined in tandem with his health and finances. Suffering a stroke in the mid 1850s, Ward died in November 1859.

Regarded by many as the quintessential animal painter of his generation, Ward’s paintings often had moralistic undertones that reflected his unusually progressive views. These included his hatred of cruelty to animals and defence of beards (which were extremely unfashionable at the time), and his works were sometime accompanied by lengthy explanations or poems.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography

James Ward RA (1769–1859) counted leading abolitionists among his friends and patrons and likely held anti-slavery views himself. Ward was an artist who often employed allegory in his work, and his painting The Liboya Serpent Seizing its Prey (c.1803, now lost) was an allegorical statement on the evils of the trade of enslaved Africans. The huge painting, showing a serpent wrapped around a Black African man on a white horse, was rejected by the Royal Academy for its Annual Exhibition (now known as the Summer Exhibition) in 1804. There are several studies for the work including those at the Yale Center for British Art and the British Museum.

In his work as an engraver, Ward reproduced portraits of both abolitionists and colonialists alike. In 1802, for example, he published a mezzotint after John Hoppner of Henry Thornton (1760–1815), a leading member of the anti-slavery and activist Clapham Sect. Sometime between 1806 and 1811 Ward also produced a mezzotint after Sir Thomas Lawrence of Francis Baring (1740–1810), the Director of the East India Company, and his associates.

Relevant ODNB entries

Nygren, Edward J. “Ward, James (1769–1859), painter and printmaker.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Mar. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-28686

Tolley, Christopher. “Thornton, Henry (1760–1815), banker and political economist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Mar. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-27357


Royal Academician

Born: 23 October 1769 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 16 November 1859

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 2 November 1807

Elected RA: 11 February 1811

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting, Printmaking, Mezzotint, and Lithography

Works by James Ward in the RA Collection

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Works after James Ward in the RA Collection

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Works associated with James Ward in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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