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Original works of art

Arthur Wardle
(English, 1864 -1949 )

Arthur Wardle was a prolific and very talented late nineteenth century artist who created an extraordinary body of work, yet surprisingly little has been written about him. Known by some as a painter of big game and wildlife, he is for dog lovers one of the pre-eminent painters of pure bred dogs that England has produced.

Wardle’s work falls easily into two groupings: portrayals of wildlife, and works that depict dogs. The latter group may be divided into several sections: those paintings which he completed on his own, rather than as commissions; commissioned paintings of pure bred dogs, and works which were popularized through their use in books as well as on cigarette cards, prints and postcards.

Along with his paintings of dogs, Wardle’s paintings of lions, tigers, elephants, polar bears and other wildlife have in recent times become highly desirable, as they were during his lifetime. Wardle exhibited some 113 paintings at The Royal Academy between 1880 and 1938, the majority of which appear to have been of wildlife. George III had founded The Royal Academy in 1768, and it was extremely influential. Since its foundation, it has been run as an art school, with annual exhibitions to which artists of any nationality might apply.

The Royal Academy Schools stopped each summer for approximately two months to mount these annual exhibitions, to which all artists could submit their work. It became increasingly difficult to be accepted, however, because the Hanging Committee, which was made up of five to seven Academicians, accepted only a limited number of the submissions. Of the 13,000 works submitted in 1899, for example, only 2,000 were accepted.

In addition to his exhibits at the Royal Academy summer exhibitions, Wardle also showed his work at commercial galleries, including The Fine Art Society, today still located on Bond Street in London. Wardle was equally proficient in pastel and watercolor as he was in oils, and he was elected a member of The Royal Society of Painters in Watercolors in 1922.

Among Wardle’s best known dog paintings are those he completed for the owner of the famous d’Orsay Smooth Fox Terrier Kennels, Mr. Francis Redmond. The famous original version of the painting, entitled The Totteridge Eleven hangs in the London offices of The Kennel Club, but another version may be seen in America at the offices of The American Kennel Club.

This painting is one of a number of large paintings that he completed, among which were Bulldogs of the Twentieth Century and Field Spaniels of The Twentieth Century, once in the collection of the late prominent dog fancier, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. They present important dogs of the day, in classic, pure bred dog poses.

Wardle was a master of the pure bred dog portrait, and in those paintings which he did on his own, as well as, his commissioned works. One is tempted to think that he favorably modified the appearance of his subjects. The portrait of “Ch. Mistress Royal and Ch Master Royal in the collection of The American Kennel club, for instance, shows the famous Airedales in a classic show pose, their dark rich coat silhouetted against a light autumnal background of pale browns and beige’s. While they were top-winning dogs there has been some discussion that as Wardle knew the standards of the dogs so well, that he often would improve their appearance to please the dog’s owner.

This notion was reinforced a few years ago during an interview with the late Mrs. James A. Farrell, Jr., a prominent Fox Terrier and Greyhound breeder, whose foundation dogs were painted by Mildred Megargee . She recounted how she had visited the famous Mr. Wardle in 1938 with the Baron von der Hoop, who had commissioned the artist to paint a portrait of his Smooth Fox Terrier, “Solus Joy.” Wardle, who was living in a brick row house in Shepherd’s Bush at the time, was working on a large painting of lions that he was to exhibit at The Royal Academy, but he still found time for his dog portrait commissions. Knowing the standard for the Smooth Fox Terrier very well, and having painted so many excellent specimens, Mrs. Farrell felt that he changed the appearance of Baron von der Hoop’s dog to make it conform more closely to the breed standard.

Indeed, Mrs. Farrell was to take the story further. She explained that so many of Mr. Wardle’s paintings had been published in print form, on cigarette cards or postcards, that the paintings themselves had become more well known than the dogs. Furthermore, she reasoned, that if breeders outside of England, (and especially in America), knew the appearance of these dogs only through Mr. Wardle’s paintings, that they may have bred their dogs to make them appear more like the paintings.

Arthur Wardle was a prolific artist, and his paintings reached a very wide audience through printed reproductions, both in color and black and white. The practice of reproducing one’s paintings in print form had in the nineteenth century been perfected by Edwin Landseer’s brother Tom, for very few of Edwin’s important painting of dogs were not reproduced for wide distribution as prints. This was to a lesser extent also the case with John Emms and Maud Earl, but Arthur Wardle took it to new levels.

The number of Wardle’s paintings reproduced on collectible cigarette cards alone, came to some 250. At least 80 of his paintings and watercolors were reproduced on postcards, and Spratts produced 36 of his images on cards. In addition to these, several of the paintings which he did for the d’Orsay Kennels were reproduced as fine art prints, including The Totteridge Eleven of 1897, Ch. D’Orsay’s Donna and Ch. D’Orsay’s Model as well as Ch. Dame Fortune. The Mansell company was very successful with them, producing them in unlimited runs, as required. In an article on Arthur Wardle in The Kennel Gazette, the British writer Peter Embling pointed out that Mansell sold the plates to Spratt’s in 1924 and they reprinted them, with their own credit. Spratt’s exhibited the prints at the Cruft’s Dog Show and published postcards showing a sepia image of each of the images.

Wardle’s works were further popularized with the publication of several books which used his paintings or drawings as illustrations. In 1890 Rawdon Lee commissioned the artist to illustrate A History and Description of the Collie . In 1893 he was commissioned to illustrate a volume of Modern Dogs. A year later he illustrated the Sporting and Terrier volumes in the series These books were beautifully produced and appeared in several editions. Another dog book which received wide distribution was one simply entitled Show Dogs, by Theo Marples. Marples had in 1911 ran a series of articles in the weekly dog periodical Our Dogs on the “ideal” of various breeds. A new breed was done each week, with an illustration by Wardle. The series was eventually put together, with 92 drawings by Wardle in all.

Wardle’s success as an artist was a combination of his abilities as an artist and his affection for and understanding of, pure bred dogs. Wardle was also fortunate in having been born in an era when dog painting was an accepted genre, with an appreciative public anxious to purchase fine paintings. He reached his heyday during a period in which both conformation dog shows and field trials were at a peak . Moreover, it seems that, even more than photographers, Wardle could capture the ideal of a certain breed.

Unlike earlier Victorian artists such as Horatio Henry Couldery or George Earl, Wardle painted with a quick, almost painterly brush stroke, and his palette seems to have been affected by scientific color theories that had an even greater effect on the Impressionist and Post Impressionist artists of the late nineteenth century.

Many dog fanciers think of Wardle only as a painter of terriers, but this is an unfair assessment of his considerable talent. Whether in oils, watercolor or pastel, he undoubtedly painted virtually very breed of dog in England during his lifetime, with at least 250 known images. Like most other artists, however, Wardle’s work can vary in quality, and one should be careful not to buy just because of the name. Because he was well known in his lifetime, his works have been copied and his name applied to inferior work.


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