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The following information was submitted in July of 2006 by Dareen A. Bridge:
1864 - 1949
Improvements in publishing techniques coincided with the canine fancy’s rise in popularity, these two factors combined in a growing volume of canine literature during the late nineteenth century. With photography still in its infancy, requiring long exposure in studio settings, the canine artist became as much a feature of the show scene as the photographer is today. Of this band of artists, capable of capturing a show’s essence and atmosphere in a few strokes, Arthur Wardle stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
Born in 1864, Wardle proved something of a prodigal, exhibiting at the Royal Academy whilst still a teenager, but the subjects of these early canvases give little insight into his later work. Largely self taught he did, in later life, suggest his artistic education had been undertaken privately, and it is probable he learnt much from the artists that frequented the area around his family’s Chelsea home.
Whether owing to this lack of formal training, or because he liked experimenting with various art forms, Wardle’s talent was slow to mature. However his move to the North London district of St John’s Wood did provide increased opportunities to study the inmates of London Zoo at close quarters, and often he would be seen with easel or drawing pad in hand. Portraying a remarkable diversity of subject matter, whilst exhibiting an amazing command of widely different art medium, Wardle achieved the appreciation he both craved and deserved during the twentieth century’s first two decades.
A series of large oils depicting mythical themes, combining the human form, often loosely draped and surprisingly erotic, surrounded by wild and exotic beasts, excited much needed critical acclaim from the late 1890s. This recognition allowing Wardle to develop his more naturalistic animal paintings, mostly featuring big cats set in expansive landscapes. In both these areas he walked in the footsteps of earlier if different British artists, whilst developing a more subtle and dramatic style capable of capturing both grace and ferocity.
As his mythical creations drew to their climax with ‘A Bacchante’ in 1909, Wardle embarked on a new series of major works. Perhaps it was his uncanny commercial instincts that prompted him to combine beautifully dressed women or children with the fashionable dog breeds from the Edwardian era to illustrate human partialities. With characteristic artistry, Wardle managed to depict such emotions as Jealousy, and Companionship, without the sentimentality that is synonymous with the age. Even his ‘A Girl’s Best Friend’ evokes a more realistic portrayal of friendship, than Charles Burton Barber’s overtly sentimental ‘Sweethearts’, which it resembles.
If big cats and wild game from the African and Indian continents were to establish Wardle’s artistic credentials, it was his ability to capture the expression and essence of his subjects that make him one of today’s most collectable of artists. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of terriers, whose portraits he enlivened with something of their mischievous spirit, his portfolio included most breeds. Often seen sitting ringside at some of the UK’s most prestigious shows, and working in his favourite medium of pastels on richly coloured paper, he could depict a dog’s character in little more than a few strokes. His head and shoulder portrait of Newmarket Popgun being typical of the genie.
An almost photographic style, coupled with his willingness to enhance any qualities whilst minimizing all faults, was to make him the darling of the canine fancy. His understanding of structure and breed character made him the natural choice of early canine chroniclers. With some of his finest examples, beautifully and sympathetically engraved by the talented O. Butterworth, of whom so little is known, used to illustrate Rawdon Lee’s contribution to canine literature, including The Collie or Sheepdog. These commissions leading to major cigarette companies engaging Wardle to produce several sets of lavish cards depicting various dog breeds, which are themselves now highly sought after collectors items.