Andrew Lambirth trawls the galleries and finds a visual feast for the festive season
Most people who have heard of James Ward (1769–1859) will know his monumental landscape in Tate Britain, ‘Gordale Scar’, but perhaps little else by him. ‘Gordale Scar’ is immensely impressive (I also love Karl Weschke’s versions of the same subject made in 1987–8), but Ward was far from being a one-work artist. A painter of animals as well as of landscapes, his gifts of observation and curiosity made him a valued recorder of country life. A superb show of his drawings at W.S. Fine Art/Andrew Wyld (27 Dover Street, W1, until 11 December) gives a full account of his skills as a draughtsman in subjects ranging from charcoal burners to cloud studies. Particularly effective are the pencil drawings of trees in Wales and Scotland, holly trees in Needwood Forest, Staffordshire, and Cader Idris from various viewpoints. The style is vigorous, particularising and affectionate. It’s time to know him better.
The Ward show is accompanied by a beautifully produced and scholarly catalogue, as is the very different exhibition currently at the Fine Art Society (148 New Bond Street, W1, until 3 December), bleakly entitled War. This display focuses on the art released or inspired by two world wars, and includes a host of famous artists and some extremely forceful images. C.R.W. Nevinson (1889–1946) is quintessentially a war artist — though I would also proffer an argument for some of his other work — who made unforgettable images that cross the boundary between man and machine and thus illustrate the essential inhumanity of conflict on this scale. Paul Nash (1889–1946) made disturbingly beautiful watercolour and chalk drawings of the devastated battlefields of the first world war. In the realm of sculpture, Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885–1934) modelled confrontational bronze figures overflowing with compassion, while Eric Kennington (1888–1960) drew individual soldiers asleep or off duty in poignant pastel.