The Yale Center for British Art describes James Ward as “one of the finest animal, portrait, and landscape painters of Regency England.” Apprenticed to an engraver at age twelve, he took up painting in order gain admission to the Royal Academy, initially founding his reputation on rustic genre scenes informed by those of his brother-in-law, George Moreland. Later, he adopted the bolder forms and more intense palette of Peter Paul Rubens.
The influence of both artists is apparent in the barnyard vignettes that he produced after the turn of the century, but what makes these truly remarkable has less to do with technique than expression: Ward’s animals have personality. Their moods are open to us and they have a story to tell—in this case, it is one of the burdens of farm life, in which all species share a part. A romanticist who aspired to become a history painter, he was gifted to see the inner nobility of whatever subject he undertook.