Arthur Wardle (1864-1949)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Arthur Wardle (1864-1949)

A Fairy Tale "All seemed to sleep, the timid hare on form" - Scott.

Arthur Wardle (1864-1949)
A Fairy Tale
"All seemed to sleep, the timid
hare on form" - Scott.
signed 'ARTHUR WARDLE' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45 x 65¼ in. (114.3 x 165.7 cm.)
with Whitford and Hughes, London.
Private European Collection.
H. Blackburn (ed.), The Academy Notes 1895, London, 1895, pp. 11, 57, illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, 1895, no. 222.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1895, no. 1050 (£175).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Lot Essay

Arthur Wardle was essentially an animal painter. Indeed few quadrupeds were outside his range; winsome domestic pets, sporting dogs and horses, big cats, elephants and rhinos - he was equal to them all. However, like Briton Riviere (1840-1920; see lot 94), a leading animal painter of the previous generation, he had ambitions to transcend his chosen genre by depicting animals in literary or narrative contexts. Like Riviere, he was an academic artist by temperament, and these flights of fancy reflect the belief enshrined in the academic tradition that there was a hierarchy of subjects, 'history painting' representing the highest form of artistic expression followed by portraiture, genre, landscape, animal painting and still life. By making animals the protagonists of 'historical' subjects he was having the best of both worlds, claiming the pictorial high ground while remaining true to his field of expertise.

Occasionally he would attempt a classical theme, 'history' in its purest form. More often he opted for inventions of his own, improbable scenes of mermaids disporting with polar bears, maenads frollicking with tigers, and so on.

A Fairy Tale, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895, when Wardle was thirty, falls somewhere between these two extremes; the literary reference is strong but not too specific, while the 'human' and 'animal' elements are nicely balanced. Wardle was to reach a similar compromise in The Enchantress, a picture exhibited at the RA in 1901 that was sold in these Rooms on 7 November 1997, lot 170.

As if to reinforce the 'historical' credentials of A Fairy Tale, Wardle seems to borrow from contemporary works by artists whose commitment to the highest pictorial ideals was not in doubt. His figure bears a close resemblance to the sleeper in Lord Leighton's Summer Slumber (private collection, India), exhibited at the RA in 1894, a year before his own picture made its debut. The sleepy cat curled up in the foreground of Summer Slumber might even foreshadow Wardle's somnolent deer and hare. Nor is it impossible that Wardle had heard that the President was working on another work of this kind, Flaming June (Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico), destined to appear at the same exhibition as his own picture the following year.

But if Summer Slumber is relevant, it seems it was not the first work that set Wardle thinking along these iconographical lines. That was surely the role of Burne-Jones's famous 'Briar Rose' series, four large canvases inspired by the Grimm brothers' familiar tale of 'Sleeping Beauty' (fig. 1). When, after twenty years on the easel, the paintings were exhibited at Agnew's gallery in Old Bond Street in the summer of 1890, they caused a sensation, drawing huge crowds of rapturous devotees. Wardle may well have been one of those who saw them, or he may have known the photogravures published in 1892.

Whatever the case, the parallels with his own painting are startling. He, like Burne-Jones, evokes a mood of enchantment and shows us a sleeping 'princess'. The animals in A Fairy Tale may compare with the cat in Leighton's Summer Slumber, but they also offer an amusing equivalent to the sleeping soldiers, servant-girls and courtiers in the 'Briar Rose' paintings, all being, like them, under the same spell as their mistress.

Above all, Wardle seems to follow Burne-Jones in making great play with the dog-rose motif, replete with hoop-like tendrils, vicious thorns and flowers. For both artists, it is not only a powerful compositional device but important thematically, suggesting the passing of aeons of time since the spell was cast. Wardle, however, has extended this idea to the figure herself, adding a touch of realism that Burne-Jones, characteristically, has shunned. The hair of his 'sleeping beauty' has continued to grow, enabling the artist to paint her with the attribute of a true fairytale heroine, luxuriant golden tresses.

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