Heywood Hardy was a British painter known for depicting animals and 18th-century hunting scenes. During his life, Heywood was affiliated with sports institutions, for whom he provided the visual material for events, publicity, and general illustration. Through the painter's work, it's possible to have a unique view of the sporting habits during the late Victorian era. Today he is collected in museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Bury Art Museum. Heywood Hardy's paintings still embody an Academic manner while being an example of how commercial works were adapting to the looser brushwork of the Impressionists.
The artist Heywood Hardy was born in November 1842, in the city of Chichester, England. Heywood was raised in a family of artists and was the youngest of ten siblings. His father, James Hardy, was a distinguished and respected painter who worked mostly with landscapes. His sister Ava, his brothers James Hardy Jr., David, his cousins Frederick Daniel Hardy, and George Hardy, also became artists.
Before starting his artistic education, he also had an interest in music, playing the trumpet in a band. His early involvement with music is explained through his family. Not only was he from a family of painters, but James Hardy Sr. was a musician before becoming an artist. Three of his uncles were part of the Royal Private Band of Music, with one of them belonging to the personal band of Queen Adelaide. Even though he didn't continue to chase this passion as a career, Hardy kept playing instruments his whole life.
At the age of 17, Hardy left his home in Bath and went to Keynsham, near Bristol. The event was decisive for his mature pursuit of a career as a painter and happened over a heated argument with his father.
When he was 22 years old, his earliest two paintings were accepted at the Royal Academy exhibit. In the same year, Hardy was appointed as an Ensign in the Volunteer Corps, a voluntary organization focused on home defense against foreign invasion.
Soon, Hardy made enough money to enroll at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was primarily under the teachings of Isidore Pils, an accomplished Academic painter. Pils studied under François-Édouard Picot, a mythological and history painter who was a master at the École.
Hardy's master was influenced by the oeuvre of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who was the director of the Academy at the time and took the realism of Academic production a step further. He taught the young Hardy the tools of a pictorial language that made his work distinctive.
He studied extensively copying paintings at the Louvre Museum. During his time in Paris, Hardy lived a rather bohemian life, as it was common in a city populated by many experienced and aspiring painters.
By 1869, Hardy returned to England and was living in the city of Goring. The next year, he retreated to St John's Wood, London, where he established himself and focused on animal paintings, which guaranteed him a commercial venue and local fame.
The artist soon found that the British art market was receiving his hunting artworks well. He married Mary Beechey in 1868, daughter of a naval officer. Her grandfather was Sir William Beechey, a successful historical portraitist that followed the principles of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Mary and Heywood had four daughters together.
In 1873, the British daily paper The Times highly praised one of Hardy's paintings exhibited at The Royal Academy. The picture depicted fighting lions and compared the ferocity of the scene to those of Rubens' images. The critic's commentary boosted his reputation to even higher standards. Hardy had a keen interest in this wild feline, representing it several times, such as Teasing the Lion Cubs.
In the same year, Hardy made a trip to Egypt. There, he was amused by the different landscapes and animals and spent many days studying the local vegetation and wildlife. In London, he studied the comparative anatomy between birds and other animals under Professor Alfred Henri Garrod, the Head of the Scientific Department of the London Zoo.
Hardy also executed illustrations for Professor Garrod's research on horse gaits, which was the in-depth study of a horse's natural movement. It's safe to say that this partnership granted the artist the observation and experience needed to achieve the fidelity in his famous horse paintings.
To further study lions, Hardy acquired a deceased lioness from the Zoo. He later had it mounted by James Rowland Ward, a highly respected and skilled taxidermist. An example of artwork produced based on his observations of the lioness is A Lion's Head and Una and the Lion.
Throughout his life, Hardy was very fond of horses and horseback riding; his paintings on these subjects would become his most celebrated works, especially horseback riding by the seashore. Pleasant Company is an example out of several artworks present in his oeuvre.
With the praise he received from the Academy show and the work he did for Professor Garrod, the artist made connections with the sports industry and rising bourgeoisie, receiving many commissions relating to sports events and the portrayal of hunting scenes. Today, those are among his most famous pictures.
Heywood was responsible for the portraits of three winners of the Grand National. The event was created in 1839 and became the biggest horse racing competition in England. His affiliation with the race led to his increase in patrons, who took much interest in his horse paintings. Some of the most notable commissions he received were from the poet, Lady Ida Sitwell, and Sir George Sitwell, a writer, and Ida's husband.
In 1909, the British painter returned to Sussex, near the coastal area. Among his last works were altarpieces, ordered by the local Church of St Mary and St Luke. He was 83 years old when he started the commission for the churches. Later, his ashes were buried in the graveyard of St Mary's Church.
Heywood Hardy died in the city of Epsom in 1933. Hardy was 90 years old when he passed away.
The genre scenes that the artist produced represent a unique view on the activity of hunting by the British upper classes and the leisure time during the Victorian era. While Hardy's manner is conservative if compared to his Parisian peers, as some of them were contributing to Impressionism's development, his palette is warmer and freer than that of Academic painters.
Hardy didn't have the same Modernist spirit of his contemporaries, but his need to depict outdoor scenes made him have shared concerns about vivid landscape portrayals. The painter's work shows an evident concern with atmospheric effects and the weather as an expressive element of his compositions. His painterly aspirations regarding color can be seen in pictures such as A Ride on The Beach Dublin, Horse and Rider on a Windswept Beach, and Miss AL North on Ivanhoe.
Hardy was a founding member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, an associate of the Royal Watercolour Society, and part of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Two of his daughters became painters, and the eldest of them exhibited fifteen works at the Royal Academy.