Heywood Hardy (British, 1843-1933), Returning to the Fox’s Lair, oil on canvas, signed twice and dated 1896, 27.5″ x 32.5″
Heywood Hardy was a prominent portraitist and an accomplished painter of equestrian, hunting and genre scenes, many set in the 18th century. He was born in Chichester, England and, like so many artists in his day, belonged to a family of painters. His father, James Hardy, was a respected landscape artist and his older brother, James Hardy Jr, was a skilled painter of horses and dogs.
Hardy left home at the age of 17, and attempted to earn a living by painting animals. After experiencing initial failure as an animal painter, he joined the British Army. He then moved to Paris and entered the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied under the battle artist, Pielse. Hardy spent some time in Antwerp before returning to England in 1868. Back in his home country, he found his services as an artist were in great demand. Known for his sensitive paintings of animals, he was frequently invited to country estates to paint portraits, sporting scenes, and animal studies. Hardy’s distinguished patrons included Colonel Wyndham Murray, the Marquis of Zetland and the Sitwells of Renishaw.
Hardy began exhibiting in 1861, and continued to show his work throughout his career. He exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street (1863 to 1871); Royal Academy (46 paintings between 1864 and 1919); The British Institute; The Old Watercolour Society.
In 1870 Hardy and his family moved to St John’s Wood, London – an area then popular with artists. During this period his career flourished and he was elected a member of a number of societies, including The Royal Society of Painters and Etchers, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters and The Royal Society of Portrait Painters. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society. Hardy also worked as an illustrator, contributing to The Illustrated London News and The Graphic Magazine.
Hardy moved to West Sussex in 1909, and at the age of eighty-three embarked upon a unique phase in his career. His series of biblical scenes portraying Christ walking in the Sussex countryside, surrounded by recognizable contemporary village dignitaries, was met with much controversy. These panels were painted to mark the 700th anniversary of Clymping Church, where they can still be seen today.