John Stanton Ward, CBE RA RWS VPRP NEAC (1917-2007)
John Ward was a painter and draughtsman of exceptional quality. While best known for his portraits, he was a prolific and wide-ranging artist, who produced a significant body of illustrative work.
John Ward was born in Hereford on 10 October 1917, the youngest of seven children of an antique dealer and picture restorer. His father died when he was ten years old, and money was then short, with his two elder sisters providing the family income. At the age of fifteen, he left St Owen’s School to study at Hereford School of Art (1933-36), and then in London at the Royal College of Art (1936-39; 1946-47). There he studied under Gilbert Spencer, Barnett Freedman, Percy Horton, Charles Mahoney and Alan Sorrell, and won a drawing prize.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted with the Royal Engineers, and served with them until 1946, designing and constructing pillboxes along the Kent coast. At the end of the war, he returned to the RCA to complete his studies, and won a travelling scholarship.
In 1948, Ward received a four-year contract from Vogue as an illustrator, and so produced many fashion drawings and sketches of interiors. In the same period, he taught part-time at Wimbledon School of Art. Through the 1950s, he consolidated his reputation as a painter and illustrator, becoming a member of the New English Art Club (1950), the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours (1952), the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (1952) and the Royal Academy of Arts (ARA 1956; RA 1965). He held a one-man exhibition at Wildenstein’s in 1954, and subsequent solo shows at the Maas Gallery from 1964.
Having married in 1950, Ward and his wife left London in 1954, and settled at Bilting Court, a Tudor house near Ashford, Kent. In the same year, he exhibited his design for a mural for the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, at Challock, close to his new home. (This was completed in 1956, while a second was produced in 1999.)
From 1962, Ward developed a close connection with the Royal Family, making sketches of life at Balmoral and giving lessons in watercolour to Prince Charles. In 1981, he was commissioned to paint the wedding between Charles and Diana. Painting many establishment figures led to his election to Vice-President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters during the years 1980-85, and his appointment as a CBE in 1985. A retrospective was held at Agnew’s, London, 1990, and later solo shows at Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox from 1996. He resigned from the Royal Academy in 1997 as the result of matters arising from the decision to mount Sensation, the exhibition of Young British Artists.
While referring to book illustration as his recreation, Ward always responded seriously to commissions, and his achievement in the field should, in itself, be enough to secure a posthumous reputation. Initiating his career as a book illustrator with Cynon Beaton-Jones’s The Adventures of So-Hi in 1951, he worked particularly closely with Laurie Lee (including Cider with Rosie in 1959), Richard Church (including The Little Kingdom in 1968), H E Bates (including three volumes of autobiography in 1969-72) and Joyce Grenfell (including George, Don’t Do That in 1977).
John Ward at Biltling on died 14 June 2007. His daughter, Celia (born 1957), is also an artist.
His work is represented in the Royal Collection and numerous public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery.
Further reading Simon Fenwick, ‘John Ward’ [obituary], Guardian, 21 June 2007; ‘John Ward’ [obituary], Daily Telegraph, 18 June 2007; ‘John Ward’ [obituary], The Times, 22 June 2007; Andrew Lambirth, ‘John Ward: Painter of Exceptional Ability’ [obituary], Independent, 16 June 2007