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James Ward  RA (1769 - 1859)
  • 'Tintern Wire Mill' James Ward (painted) 1838, oil on panel, 24 x 36 in., signed and dated lower right excellent condition, period frame - Contact us for the asking price -


    Ward began his professional career as an engraver, initially in the studio of John Raphael Smith and subsequently with his brother William. This enabled him to study at first-hand the work of the leading artists of the day including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Fuseli and West, as well as the works of the greatest old masters. Ward worked for the leading dealer and auctioneer, Michael Bryan, engraving several plates of the most celebrated pictures in the Orléans collection. It was this exposure to both contemporary works and paintings of the past which inspired the young Ward to abandon his successful career as a printmaker in favour of becoming a painter.

    Ward had missed out on an ‘academic’ education in the schools of the Royal Academy and several life drawings testify to his lack of comfort in this genre. But his powers of observation were honed by his work as an engraver and supplemented by anatomy lessons and drawing from antique sculpture. His earliest works were indebted in style to his brother-in-law George Morland, but in 1803 he saw Rubens’s Château de Steen (National Gallery, London). The picture had recently been acquired by Sir George Beaumont and Ward’s work developed a painterly grandeur and rich colourism as a result. Ward was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1807 and a full member in 1811.

    At the turn of the century Ward created a series of animal portraits for the Board of Agriculture which set out to record the various breeds of livestock in Britain; the compositions were then to be engraved by Boydell. Tireless in his efforts to gather information on British livestock, Ward travelled extensively throughout England. In the process he executed a large body of drawings that he utilized throughout his long life. Ward’s imagination as a draughtsman was fuelled by travel to spectacular sublime and romantic landscapes as well as journeys to visit patrons and family. Ward’s surviving account book reveals that although he occasionally sold his studies – often for handsome amounts of money, the majority he retained as a vital archive for use in creating paintings, sometimes decades later.

    Despite receiving recognition as an outstanding animal painter Ward told the diarist Joseph Farington that he did not ‘wish to be admitted to the Academy as a Horse-Painter’ (Farington, Diary, 20 June 1811). This reflected a general dissatisfaction with being considered an animal painter, a lower form of art according to the dictates of the times than historical or allegorical painting. Despite his failure as an historical painter, Ward ranks among the leading artists of the British Romantic movement, particularly in his depiction of horses and in his rendering of dramatic landscapes.

    Source: The Life and Work of James Ward, R.A., 1769-1859 by James Ward and Oliver Beckett (1995, Book, Illustrated)


    Back of work
    Where is the Wire Mill in Tintern Wales?

    Map of showing the southwest region of the United Kingdom

    Tintern is most famous for it 12th Century Abbey.  The red mark on the map above denotes the location of Tintern on the Wye River just inside Wales. The area adjacent to the abbey became industrialised in the mid-16th century with the setting up of the first wireworks circa 1565 by the Company of Mineral and Battery Works and the later expansion of factories and furnaces up the Angidy valley. Charcoal was made in the woods to feed these operations and, in addition, the hillside above the Abbey was quarried for the making of lime at a kiln in constant operation for some three centuries.

    The Tintern Wire Mill site today.

    The Provenance of the painting:

    By direct descent to the currrent owner.

    The History of the painting itself:

    The artist visited the Tintern area in 1807 created a graphite on paper sketch 16 x 25 1/2 in.(below)

    “Mr. Thompson's Wire Mill, Tintern” Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

    The Mill was owned by Mr. Thompson, a wealthy company owner by this time, and the Tintern area was a popular spot for artists to visit.

    In 1838 the artist created a small sketch based on the above drawing:

    'Tintern Wire Mill' oil sketch on panel 5.5 x 8 1/4 in. Collection of the Chepstow Museum in Monmouthshire, UK Acquired in 2014 from Lowell Libson Gallery.


    The large painting was painted in 1838 and exhibited as the 'The Wire Mill at Tintern' at the British Institution in 1838 along with the painting 'Tintern Abbey' which is now in the collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

    James Ward – Tintern Wire Mill – Andrew Mellon - The connection?

    When the current owner's grandfather purchased this painting, most likely from Arthur Tooth & Sons or Thomas Agnew & Sons, sometime before WW I. Andrew Mellon purchased the drawing and my client's grandfather purchased the painting. On the back of the painting's frame is written in white chalk 'Mellon Foundation'.


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    Updated last on January 1, 2021

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