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James Ward, 1769–1859

The Day's Sport [1826, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]

Former Title(s):

Winter Landscape with Sportsmen returning from Shooting

A snowy landscape [1960, Sotheby's sales catalogue]

Oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 51 1/4 inches (100.3 x 130.2 cm)

Signed and dated, lower right: "JWARD R.A. 1826"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
birds | children | costume | dogs (animals) | donkey | duck | fence | gamekeepers | girls | guns | hills | hunters | hunting | landscape | men | pheasants | rabbit | sea | snow | sporting art | swan | winter
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This complex painting partly belongs to the tradition of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish game pieces by Frans Snyders, Jan Weenix, and others, in which the "bag," the spoils of a day's shooting, stands for the bounty of nature. Much in the painting, particularly the handling of trees, reflects James Ward's love of Snyders and Rubens. But the wintry subject also appears to have offered Ward other possibilities and themes arising from his evangelical Anglicanism. He was much more inclined to deplore the indiscriminate shooting of birds and animals in the English countryside than to relish it. The Day's Sport, with a mountainous array of dead game, including the inert, bloodied swan, forms a kind of Noah's Ark in reverse: a critique of the insensitivity, cruelty, and indifference of man the hunter, versus the sympathetic feelings of innocent children. The seasonal associations with Christmas also strengthen the moralizing flavor of the work.

Gallery label for Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)
The title of this somewhat mysterious painting, which is the artist's own, seems deliberately to give little away. At the center of the composition a gamekeeper is shown loading a dead hare into a pannier on a mule. Behind him to the left another keeper walks up the hill holding a dead mallard, presumably just retrieved by the dog that follows him. Since they are identically dressed, there is a sense of sequential movement about these two figures, almost as if they represented the same man carrying out different parts of his job. The third man in the scene, seated in the left foreground with a retriever and spaniel at his feet, is less readily identified. He is dressed like the others, which might suggest that he too is a gamekeeper. Yet the fact of his resting while the others work implies that he is their master, an idea borne out by a contemporary description of the painting in the Sporting Magazine as "A Gentleman and his keepers loading a mule with the spoils of the day: a Snow Piece."[1]

Despite the observed, portrait-like character of the seated man and the keeper with the hare, it is unlikely that they are intended to be recognizable individuals. In a portrait it would be most unusual for a gentleman to be subordinated visually to a servant. Furthermore, the artist sold the work at auction a couple of years after it was painted, which strongly suggests that it was uncommissioned. He seems to have had something more general than portraiture in mind, and indeed something more ambitious than one would expect from a picture called The Day's Sport. Clearly this is no sociable shooting party of the kind painted so often and so fondly by sporting artists. In fact, with no more than one gentleman in attendance, and the second keeper carrying a gun, it seems probable that the day's outing has been less for sport than for provisions. The killing has been abundant, including not only the hare and duck, but various other birds that are laid out across the foreground: snipe, partridge, pheasant, and a swan. It is sunset in the autumn, the dying times of the day and year, and the light pall of snow is spotted with blood. The subject is redolent of death. Yet, thanks largely to Ward's robust and animated manner of painting, the general mood of the piece is far from deathly. There is the same sense of nature's bounty that comes across so powerfully in the landscapes of his great artistic hero, Rubens; the far distant view to the left, the bold inclusion of the sun, even the shooting theme, recall the famous Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen (National Gallery, London), then in the collection of Sir George Beaumont. Although the old tree in the middle ground has lost most of its leaves and shows a dead stump where a large branch has been cut, the branches that survive seem to writhe, almost van Gogh-like, with growth and energy.

The lighter-haired of the village children to the right looks on with a melancholy expression, as though feeling sympathy for the animals, lamenting the massacre of fellow innocents; the dark-haired child seems affected less, perhaps regarding the massacre more in the light of a feast in the making. It is only the keeper with the hare, going about his business with the solemnity of some ancient seasonal rite, whose features hint at some understanding of the day's sport in its larger significance-as a microcosm of life and death in the cycle of nature.

[1] Egerton 1978, 218.

Malcolm Warner

Malcolm Warner, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 126, no. 50, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

James Ward (Yale Center for British Art, 2004-05-21 - 2004-08-22) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Oliver Beckett, The life and work of James Ward, R.A., 1769-1859, the forgotten genius , Book Guild, Lewes (England), 1995, p. 191, no. 65, col. pl. 16, NJ18 W21 B42 1995 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Colls, This sporting life : sport and liberty in England, 1760-1960, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2020, p. 372, GV706.35 .C65 2020 (LC) YCBA [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 236, 237, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867 : A Catalogue : The Paul Mellon Collection, , Tate Publishing, London, 1978, pp. 218-19, no. 234, pl. 78, ND1383 G7 B75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

C. Reginald Grundy, James Ward R.A., his life and works, with a catalogue of his engravings and pictures , Otto limited, London, 1909, no. 809, NJ18 W21 G7+ OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 126, no. 50, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Edward John Nygren, James Ward, RA (1769-1859) : Papers and Patrons, Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 75, 2013, pp. 339-40, no. 377, PL. XLIX, N12 W35 +A1Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 : collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon : Exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, , 1,2, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 186 (v.1), no. 355, pl. 199 (v.2), ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 81 (v.1), no. 287, pl. 68, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Catalogue of fine paintings and drawings of the English school : 30 November 1960, Sotheby's, London, November 30, 1960, p. 37, lot 148, Auction catalogues (YCBA) [YCBA]

The Yale Center for British Art, An Anniversary Celebration of Paul Mellon's Great Legacy , Apollo, April 2007, pp. 60-61, fig. 1, N5220 M552 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Appeared as April 2007 issue of Apollo;; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 165:2 +] [YCBA]

Angus Trumble, Diversions of the Field, Apollo, v. 165, no. 542, April 2007, pp. 60-61,67, fig. 1, N1 A54 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, pp. 57 (v.1), 68, no. 213, pl. 68, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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