Wardle, Arthur (1864-1949)

Wardle, Arthur (1864-1949)

Arthur Wardle was an accomplished British painter predominantly known for his naturalistic portrayals of animals.

A precocious talent, Wardle received no academic training yet became one of the foremost animal painters of his generation. At just 16, he debuted at the Royal Academy, where he went on to show over 100 works across his flourishing career. He was considered to be ‘natural’ and educated himself by studying subjects first-hand, overcoming artistic challenges as they arose. By learning the hard way, without shortcuts, or tried and tested methodologies, he developed a unique style, contrary to his academic contemporaries.

Wardle was different in two respects, firstly, he avoided sentimental narratives and anthropomorphic embellishments. His creatures were described exactly as they were in reality, with gory details often included. And secondly, he chose to paint ‘exotic animals’ as well as the more commonly portrayed, such as dogs, cats, and horses. His studies of tigers are particularly compelling and rendered without pretence - produced following hundreds of hours sketching at London Zoo.

Each of Wardle’s animals carries a personality, an accurate sense of its wild character. And similarly, this echoes his approach to ‘human’ portraiture, which he tackled with similar vigour. His portraits, such as this from around 1910, engage with the viewer. His sitters are alive, not taxidermy. He studied the nuances.

Arthur Wardle

His popularity led to a prosperous career and he spent many years living at the upmarket Alma Square in St John's Wood, London. The haunt of many a contemporary. His neighbour for a time was the landscape painter, Robert Gallon (1845-1925). It’s interesting that his address at Alma Square also brought him even closer to the zoo.

Across the span of his remarkable life, he exhibited extensively - equally proficient in various mediums. He was elected a member of the Pastel Society in 1911 and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1922.


Royal Academy, Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Whitechapel Art Gallery, The Dudley Gallery, Fine Art Society, New Watercolor Society.

Public Collections

V&A Museum, Tate Britain, Leeds City Art Gallery.



Born in Pancras, London to Alfred Wardle, a tobacconist, and Elizabeth Wardle.


Lived at Euston Road, London, with his parents, aunt and siblings. Age recorded as 1.


Lived at Euston Road, London, with his parents and siblings. Age recorded as 11.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘Study of Cattle on the Banks of the Thames’.


Lived in Camden, London, with his mother, sister, and cousin, Alfred.


Moved to Alma Square, St John’s Wood, London.


Reviewed in The International Studio during an exhibition of works at Arthur Tooth and Sons'.

“At Arthur Tooth and Sons' are exhibited forty Jungle Studies in pastel, by Arthur Wardle, and this one oil painting, Snow Leopards, which reminds us of the work of the English painter, Swan. Mr. Wardle shows that he has given much study to animal forms, especially to the anatomy of the tiger, and he has a happy way of introducing two animals into a composition so that they walk or crouch in effective unity.”


Reviewed in The Art Amateur during an exhibition of works at Arthur Tooth and Sons'.

“The painter of the three remarkable pictures of Leopards and Tigers, which we reproduce in this number, was born within the sound of Bow Bells, but, like many other Londoners, he seems to have in his blood a tendency to love what is wildest and most untamed in nature. Mr. Wardle's work, for some years past, has been introduced by Messrs. Arthur Tooth & Sons to New Yorkers, who have been surprised and charmed by it. The painter seems to be as familiar with the haunts and the habits of the ferocious beasts which he paints as Von Marcke with the gentle Cow, or Rosa Bonheur with the laborious cart horse.

His knowledge is shown in the magnificent study of ‘Forest Tigers,’ in the ‘Snow Leopards,’ coloured like their habitat, the snowy and boulder-strewn upper slopes of the Himalayas, and his feeling for the tragic side of animal life in ‘Stealth’, a picture of two leopards cautiously approaching their unsuspecting prey. This is the third exhibition of Mr. Wardle's work that has been held at the Messrs. Tooth's Galleries, and each time the painter appears to have developed higher power and to have inspired correspondingly greater respect in the critics and the public.”


Lived at Alma Square, St John’s Wood, London, with his wife Sarah, son, Arthur, and a servant. His neighbour was the landscape artist Robert Gallon (1845-1925).


Lived at Alma Square, St John’s Wood, London, with his wife Sarah, and son, Arthur.
Elected a member of the Pastel Society.


Lived alone at Alma Square, St John’s Wood, London.


Became a founding member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.


Lived at Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith, London.


Died in London.


The Practice of Water-colour Painting. Illustrated by the Work of Modern Artists. By Alfred Lys Baldry (1911).

“Among the artists who occupy themselves with the representation of animal life Mr. Arthur Wardle has made a marked success by his paintings of the larger beasts of prey. He has given years of study to the ways of the models he has chosen and has learned very thoroughly their distinguishing peculiarities of action, movement, and attitude, and their particular characteristics of anatomical structure.

He draws them with a fine sense of their grace of line and their lithe beauty of modelling, and he paints them with the soundest understanding of the texture of skin and fur. In everything he does there is the foundation of sure knowledge, tested by experience and confirmed by constant reference to nature. Necessarily, with such subjects as he prefers, the training of his memory by close and prolonged observation is a matter of great moment, because for the completeness of his work he has to trust largely to memory of what he has seen rapidly rather than to actual reproduction of facts that he can study at leisure. Therefore he has encouraged himself in the habit of making many careful and searching drawings and of taking great pains over the preliminaries by which he leads up to his final pictorial results.

But in his methods of painting he does not follow any fixed rule. Generally he works as his mood suggests or as the subject he has in hand seems to demand; his technical manner, in fact, is varied to suit the occasion and is not the same for one picture as it is for another. All that he asks is that the way he chooses at the moment should be the one by which the picture he intends to produce can be given most fully the aspect and quality he wishes it to have.

For some time past he has been using a fine-grained linen to paint upon instead of paper. This linen is mounted like paper upon stout boards so that it will keep flat and not cockle when wetted, and not stretch equally. It has a pleasant surface texture and it takes well the body-colour which he prefers for practically the whole of his work. He mixes white with almost all his colours and consequently makes his pigments semi-opaque, but as he lays them on in thin washes rather than in solid or heavily-loaded touches, the grain of the linen helps to give freshness to the brushwork and to enhance the interest of the handling.

He attaches considerable importance to the maintenance of a certain evenness of opacity in the colours while they are being applied - so as to avoid the discordant effect which would come from combining solid touches and transparent washes in the same painting. To this end he often mixes Chinese white with the water in which he dips his brushes, and thereby compels himself to carry white evenly into all the pigments with which he is working. The result is, naturally, more consistent than it would be if the white were added to the colours on the palette more or less at haphazard.

When he is painting on paper instead of linen his method of handling is practically the same - a process of building up by thin washes of body-colour which are drawn with much care and crisply defined rather than floated together. But, of course, where blending is required to suggest subtleties of colour or tone gradation he does not hesitate to fuse these touches one into the other while they are wet; the executive process he employs is elastic enough to give him all needful liberty of action and to enable him to meet in the right way any technical difficulty that may happen to arise. His readiness to adapt himself to circumstances does not mean, however, that he is uncertain about the way in which his work should be done; it implies, on the contrary, an unusual degree of all-round knowledge of the working details of his craft, and a definite capacity for discerning which particular means of expression will best serve his purpose.

The colours he uses are lemon yellow, aureolin, yellow ochre, cadmium, raw sienna, burnt sienna, rose madder, brown madder, vermilion, cobalt, Prussian blue, sepia, black, and Chinese white.”

The International Studio (1911)

“Mr. Arthur Wardle has made himself conspicuous during recent years by the consistent soundness of his work and by the attractive originality he has displayed in his selection of subjects. He has chosen a direction in which he has been able to find opportunities of a rather unusual kind, and in turning these opportunities to account he has exercised his capacities of invention and observation in a way that calls for sincere approval. His pictures have the great merit of being as true in suggestion as they are unconventional in manner, and they have, also, qualities of intelligent and well-considered naturalism which make them interesting in the highest degree as records of fact rightly analysed and shrewdly interpreted.

It is especially this atmosphere of naturalism that marks the difference between Mr. Wardle's point of view as an artist and that of the men who dealt with a similar class of subject two or three generations ago. The earlier animal painters were always possessed with the idea that they had to introduce into their work a certain element of sentimentality; they credited animals with something like human emotions and represented them generally under artificial conditions which were, more often than not, exceedingly inappropriate. They painted pictorial dramas in which wild beasts played leading parts with about as much conviction and sense of fitness as are displayed by the members of a troupe of performing dogs; and the result was, as might have been expected, decidedly unreal and ineffective.

This fashion in animal painting was, it would seem, the consequence not merely of insufficient study of the models themselves, but also of study that was misdirected and misapplied. The artists thought more about the storytelling possibilities of the subjects they elected to deal with than about the chances which these subjects offered them of investigating animal character and of learning how the beasts which were to be depicted would be likely to behave in a natural state. They used a convention which no doubt saved them a good deal of trouble but which, all the same, led them away from intelligent actuality into an empty abstraction which was unsatisfying because it represented a half-hearted compromise between fact and fancy. There was a pretence of reality about it that was perhaps its worst fault - but the pretence was so transparent that it did not in the least conceal the poverty of ideas and the inefficiency of preparation upon which it was founded.

In Mr. Wardle's art there is certainly no pretence; the honesty and serious purpose of his study are evident in everything he produces. Nor does he trouble himself to drag in unnecessary and alien sentiment into any of his pictures; he finds far too much that is interesting in animal life, represented as it really is, to be inclined to waste time over matters that are foreign to the spirit of his practice. What fundamentally influences him is the conviction that all wild beasts have personalities of their own, that each one has a character and a way of behaving which in a perfectly intelligible way expresses its temperament, and that it is this character, the artist who really understands his business, has to find out and explain. It would not be sufficient to deal in broad generalisations, to sum up characteristics and suggest realities without committing himself to any particularly definite statement; what he wants is to fill in all the little details which help, each in its right degree, to make convincing his presentation of an individuality which has its very well-defined place in the scheme of creation. Therefore he studies animal life not only with the eye of the artist but with the mind of the naturalist as well; he appreciates to the utmost the picturesqueness of his subjects, but he is quite as anxious to grasp the more subtle matters which have to be taken into account if this picturesqueness is to be amplified into the larger and truer beauty which is required in a really logical and significant work of art.

To discover the exact meaning of these subtleties he has given years of attention to the beasts which provide him with the motives for his pictures and he has striven consistently to make himself thoroughly acquainted with their ways and habits and with those peculiarities in their manner of life which distinguish one species and even one individual from another. By this line of study he has so equipped himself for the task of explaining in his pictures the matters that are needful for completeness of representation that his work now is quite exceptionally instructive and quite unusually expressive in its suggestion of nature.

What he has especially learned by his intimate observation of the structure and movements of the larger beasts of prey is how to convey the impression that the animals he is painting are living things which dwell in a world of their own and tolerate no human interference. His animals, indeed, are admirably free from self-consciousness; in their poses and actions there is no artificial mannerism and they make no pretence of being either educated or civilised. They are excellently natural in their picturesque savagery; they hunt, fight, or play, as the mood takes them, with sublime indifference for the feelings of the weaker things with which they come in contact. Canvases like Disturbed, Lords of the North, Startled, or Under the African Sun, or like that typical example of Mr. Wardle's work, the Fate at the Tate Gallery, owe most of their unquestionable persuasiveness to the fact that he has not attempted in them to make his models do anything more than they would have done instinctively in the situations suggested.

It is possible that the distinctive naturalism in Mr. Wardle's work is due in large measure to the manner in which he prepared himself for his profession. Beyond a little private instruction in painting in his early youth he had no systematic training and therefore he did not come under the influence of any particular school or master. Mainly, he educated himself by going to Nature direct and by fighting out, unassisted, the difficulties which he had to overcome; but as in this way he was taught no shortcuts to knowledge he learned all that he knows by dogged wrestling with Nature's elusive facts and by finding out through the light of hard experience what he had to master before he could hope for success. That the process was exhausting can well be imagined; but that it led him to a fuller understanding of his subjects than he would have gained by easier methods is equally conceivable. He at least discovered how to depend upon himself and how to use his powers of observation to the fullest advantage. Anyhow, whether the method of his preparation contributed to his success or whether he succeeded in spite of difficulties which might have daunted a man with less strength of character, he has certainly won his way through to a very notable command over the resources of his craft and to a conspicuous eminence in the exacting walk of art which he has chosen.

How great is his command over technicalities is shown decisively both in his pictures and his drawings - in the certainty with which he manages many mediums, and in the skill with which he handles not only oil-painting but water-colour and pastel as well. As a draughtsman he is especially distinguished; there are qualities in such studies as the Lion Walking, the Polar Bear, the Persian Leopard, the Elephants, the excellent Head of a Puma, and the slighter sketches of A Tiger, and Puma on a Tree, which are entirely memorable. This grasp of things does not desert him when he turns to subjects in which he allows a freer rein to his fancy. His grip of facts is quite as sure in his charming fantasy A Bacchante, or in his daintily imagined Idyll of Summer, as it is in more realistic records of nature like Disturbed, or those other characteristic paintings, In a South American Swamp - Jaguars and Startled Tigers at a Pool. The Bacchante is particularly to be noted for the beauty of its line arrangement 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.

Much as Mr. Wardle has accomplished, it would seem from the steady advance that he has made in his work during recent years that his highest achievement is yet to come. He has never stood still; year by year he has added something to the interest and importance of his art, and as he has still before him that period in which comes to most artists the fullest maturity of their powers - he was born in 1864 - one may fairly expect that he will greatly increase the reputation he already enjoys. He is too earnest a student to be content to remain where he is and too sincere an artist to let popularity lead him into any relaxation of effort.”

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