John Ward

This Artist’s Profile was written by local Historian Arthur G. Credland MBE, Museum Curator of the Hull Maritime Museum for over thirty five years and co-author with Gordon Bell of “Victorian Ships – John Ward’s Marine Manual”. 


John Ward was the outstanding Hull artist of the heyday of marine painting, born in the city in 1798 the son of Abraham Ward, master mariner. He was apprenticed to Thomas Meggitt, of George Yard, a house and ship painter. The workshop was a veritable nursery of local marine painters, including Thomas Binks, William Griffin, all of them effective and competent but lacking that special flair which set Ward apart from his local contemporaries.


Ward’s first dateable piece is a canvas depicting the ‘Loss of the troopship Thomas’ off the entrance to the Humber, in 1821. Doubtless as a result of his exceptional artistic skills the young man seems to have firmly established his credentials amongst the master mariners, merchants and professional men on whom he depended for commissions.

In 1827 he was admitted to the Humber Lodge of freemasons and only two years later was elected worshipful master. His work was accepted for the inaugural exhibition of the Hull and East Riding Institute for the Promotion of the Fine Arts, 1827, and he first exhibited in London in 1831, at the Royal Academy.

The busy and clearly prosperous years of the 1830s enabled him to dispose of the house and sign painting aspects of his business in 1843 and concentrate solely on painting and teaching the art of marine painting and drawing. He determined on a project to produce a manual for marine painters and with this intention a series of lithographic prints of the different types of trading and Marine Manual image.naval vessels were prepared from his drawings.

The sketches and drawings of mercantile craft no doubt accumulated throughout his career as a painter and were chiefly made on the Humber but for the naval subjects he had to visit the depots on the south coast, mainly Portsmouth. The Britannia, (illustration right) a 120 gun first rate man-of war, was the flagship there from 1835 to 1840 (on the reserve list in 1842) and is especially prominent in his late work, with a huge canvas of her and other naval craft as his academy piece in 1847.

In 1848 Ward combined a number of merchant shipping prints into his little handbook for sign writers, acknowledging in the introduction that he was ‘upwards of thirty years as a House and Sign Pinter’. This was not only a useful reference for painting different kinds of lettering but another way of advertising his shipping prints and bringing them to a wide audience. Also produced in the same year and possibly intended to preface the guide to marine painters, was a lithographic portrait, inscribed ‘John Ward, Mr. Painter 1848.’

Sadly his life was to be cut short the following year in an epidemic of cholera introduced from the continent which had spread through the major towns along the east coast, and inland as far as York. Unfortunately due to the time and expense needed to complete such a publication his marine manual remained incomplete.




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