[Polar Bears] c.1900
Coloured chalk on grey paper
biography (by Peter Nahum)
ARTHUR WARDLE RI RBC (b. 1864, d. 1948)
In the first two decades of this century Arthur Wardle was one of the best known of living British animal painters. He portrayed an astonishing diversity of subjects with an engaging naturalism, and a command of different media. Unlike most British animal and sporting artists who restricted themselves to horse and hound, deer and domesticated beasts, Wardle both drew and painted every mammal from elephant to mouse - in watercolour, pastel and oil pigment. Arthur Wardle was born in London in 1864 and started painting at a very early age. In later life he stated that his artistic education had been undertaken "privately". He did not have a formal art school training but as an aspiring artist, he would probably have taken lessons from some of the numerous artists resident near his home in Chelsea. In 1880, when Wardle was only 16, his paintings were first accepted for exhibitions. The subjects of this period reveal little of the artist's later work; rather they read like the standard titles of a hundred Victorian landscapists - grey days, twilights, evening glows and moonrises. In the 1890s however, new titles signal a change: his exhibition at Suffolk Street in the winter of 1890-1 and at the Academy the following summer, marked Wardle's conversion to animal painting. This coincided with the maturing of his technique as an artist. Perhaps because Wardle was largely self-taught he was slow to develop as a painter, and his early works, though competent, show little of the facility with oil which emerges in the mid 1890s. Wardle established his reputation as a painter at the Royal Academy with a series of large oils of mythological or imaginative scenes which combined figures, often loosely draped, with animals. The Bacchante of 1909, described in The Studio (Vol 52, 1911, page 208) as a "charming fantasy ... The Bacchante is particularly to be noted for the beauty of its line arrangements and for the charm of its colour, but it is also singularly attractive as an example of his animal painting at its best: it has all his intimacy of observation, all his sense of character, all his intelligent regard for nature, and it is distinguished not less by its freshness of conception and grace of style" Wardle's reputation may have been made with his large mythological paintings, but his most individual work was in pastel which underwent a revival in Britain in the 1890s. Inspired by French art many leading British artists - the Glasgow Boys, Buthrie and Melville, and the pastoral painter George Clausen among them - had experimented successfully with pastel, leading the foundation of the Pastel Society, of which Wardle was elected a member in 1911. Wardle glorified in the strong pure tones possible in the medium: he boldly combined free and vivid drawing with strong shades of coloured paper. Pastels were important to Wardle as they were easily portable and they enabled Wardle to work with speed - vital when his subjects were restless wild beasts who were liable to suddenly move their pose, or even stalk off sulkily, and could not be obligingly rearranged like a studio model. A long article by the distinguished critic Alfred Lys Baldry published in The Studio magazine in July 1916 paid tribute to Wardle's skill in the medium: He has a brilliant appreciation of the genius of pastel ... He used it with delightful dexterity and with a sureness of touch. If his wildlife subjects earned him critical acclaim - and indeed important sales it was his dog paintings, however, which gave him a wider fame among the public. His images were extremely widely reproduced; several tobacco companies commissioned Wardle to design sets of cigarette cards of dogs, no less than 250 in all, which proved to be enormously popular; he was commissioned to paint dog paintings for books, postcards, playing cards, calendars, pottery, chocolate boxes and biscuit tins. He earned other honours too. Public collections in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa purchased major paintings. In 1924 Wardle was one of the few animal artists represented at the palace of Arts at the Great British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and in 1931, late in life, he held his first one-man exhibition at the Fine Art Society, consisting largely of big game subjects. But though he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy to 1938 - showed no less that 113 works there during his life - election even to Associate Member of the Academy eluded him.