For almost 40 years, the caricaturist, Leslie Ward, was synonymous with the society paper, Vanity Fair. His ‘character portraits’ were invariably well observed and witty, but rarely cruel.
Leslie Ward was born on 21 November 1851 at Harewood Square, London (on the site of what is now Marylebone Station). He was the son of the history painter, Edward Matthew Ward, and his wife, Henrietta Ada Ward, a fashionable portrait painter. His mother came from a long line of artists, most notably her paternal grandfather, James Ward. He learned to draw, paint and sculpt within this environment.
Ward was educated at Chase’s School, Salt Hill, near Slough, and then at Eton.
While there, he drew caricatures of his masters and fellow pupils, and exhibited a bust of his brother, Wriothesley, at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1867. In 1869, his father placed him with the architect, Sydney Smirke, a family friend. Yet he really wanted to paint, and this was made possible by the intervention of W P Frith.
Soon after he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1871, Ward began to exhibit portraits in oil and watercolour, and could easily have made a career in that field. (Indeed, he would be elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1891.) However, in 1873, another family friend, John Everett Millais recommended that Ward take his caricature of the zoologist, Professor Richard Owen, to Thomas Gibson Bowles, the owner of Vanity Fair. As Bowles had temporarily fallen out with his regular caricaturist, Carlo Pellegrini (who signed as ‘Ape’), he invited Ward to join the staff, and suggested his pen name, ‘Spy’. For the next 15 years, the two artists shared between them most of the weekly coloured cartoons that featured in Vanity Fair. Then, on the death of Ape in 1889, until he left in 1911, Spy dominated. Latterly he also contributed ‘character portraits’ to The Graphic, Mayfair and The World.
Three years after he published his autobiography, Forty Years of Spy, in 1915, Ward was knighted. He died suddenly of heart failure at 4 Dorset Square, Marylebone, London, on 15 May 1922.
His work is represented in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery.
Further reading: Peter Mellini, ‘Ward, Sir Leslie [pseud. Spy] (1851- 1922)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 57, pages 325-326