Edward Matthew Ward

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Self-portrait by Ward, depicted working on a portrait of one of his daughters

Edward Matthew Ward RA (14 July 1816 – 15 January 1879) was an English Victorian narrative painter best known for his murals in the Palace of Westminster depicting episodes in British history from the English Civil War to the Glorious Revolution.


Early career[edit]

Ward was born in Pimlico, London. As a youth, he created illustrations for the well-known book Rejected Addresses, written by his uncles James and Horace Smith. He also created illustrations to the papers of Washington Irving. In 1830 he won the "silver palette" from the Society of Arts. With support from David Wilkie and Francis Leggatt Chantrey, he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1836 he travelled to Rome, gaining a silver medal from the Academy of St Luke in 1838 for his Cimabue and Giotto, which in the following year was exhibited at the Royal Academy.[1]

While a student at the Schools, Ward became a member of The Clique, a group of painters led by Richard Dadd. Like other members of the Clique Ward saw himself as a follower of Hogarth and Wilkie, considering their styles to be distinctly national in character. Many of his early paintings were set in the eighteenth century and were on Hogarthian subjects. He also painted episodes from seventeenth century history, influenced by the thinking of his friend, the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. He also painted subjects from the history of the French Revolution.[citation needed] In 1843 he entered the Palace of Westminster cartoon competition, but failed to win a prize.[2]

E.M. Ward, The South Sea Bubble (1846), a Hogarthian subject in the Tate Gallery

Opposition to Pre-Raphaelitism[edit]

In the 1850s Ward came into conflict with the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Millais, whose style of art he considered to be un-British. Ward's painting of Charlotte Corday being led to execution beat Millais's Ophelia for a prize at Liverpool, leading to much debate at the time.

His historical paintings led to Ward's commission to paint eight scenes in the corridor leading into the House of Commons, despite the fact that he had won nothing at the original 1843 competition.[1] These were to depict parallel episodes on the Royalist and Parliamentary sides in the Civil War. Ward's paintings depict the opposed figures as if confronting one another across the corridor.[2]

Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall (1866), after Walter Scott's novel Kenilworth

Later work[edit]

Ward continued to paint Hogarthian versions of episodes from British history throughout the 1860s, notably Hogarth's Studio in 1739 (1863, York City Art Gallery) the Antechamber at Whitehall During the Dying Moments of Charles II (1865, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).[3] In the 1870s he painted some modern-life genre subjects, but towards the end of the decade began to suffer painful illness and depression. On 10 January 1879 he was found raving on the floor of his dressing-room, his throat cut with a razor; he was shouting, "I was mad when I did it; the devil prompted me".[4] Medical help arrived, but he died on 15 January at his home, 3 Queens Villas, in Windsor. The inquest in Windsor on 17 January found that he committed suicide while temporarily insane.[5]

Dr. Johnson in the ante-room of Lord Chesterfield in Chesterfield House, Westminster. Coloured engraving by E.M. Ward/C.W.Sharpe. Shrewsbury Museums Service (SHYMS: FA/1995/008)


In 1843, Ward met the 11-year-old Henrietta Ward (her maiden and married names were the same, but she was no relation); they married secretly in May 1848, after an elopement aided by Ward's friend Wilkie Collins. Henrietta's mother never forgave the elopement, and disinherited her. Collins may have based the plot of his 1852 novel Basil on the Ward engagement.[6] Henrietta also became a successful painter.

She became a notable art teacher after her husband's death and wrote two autobiographical memoirs about their life together. His son Leslie Ward became a popular caricaturist for the magazine Vanity Fair, and later the journal The World, under the nickname "Spy".[1]


  1. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ward, Edward Matthew". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 319.
  2. ^ a b The complex history surrounding the decoration is best summarized by T. S. R. Boase, The Decorations of the New Palace of Westminster 1841-1863, in: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 17:1954, pp. 319–358.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  4. ^ The Times, 18 January 1879, p. 11
  5. ^ Wellcombe Library Catalogue Archived 14 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Matthew Sweet, London, Penguin Classics, 2003; Introduction, p. xxiii.

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