Mr James Duffield Harding – The Illustrated London News – Dec 26, 1863

DEC. 26, 1863

MR. HARDING. JAMES DUFFIELD HARDING, the distinguished landscape-painter in water colours and well-known teacher, who died on the 4th inst., was born at Deptford, Kent, in 1797. He was the son of an artist of some reputation, but whose talents were chiefly engaged in teaching. To the instruction of his father and that also of Prout, together with the careful study of Turner’s ” Liber Studiorum,” ” the deceased artist confesses he was largely indebted for the earliest formation and cultivation of his taste. A casual remark of his mother, suggesting that it might be more profitable to him to go and study directly from nature than to copy the works of men, seems to have made a deep impression on the young artist’s mind. For a while he acted upon this suggestion, and prosecuted his studies in this narrow but sure path to excellence with great ardour and devotion. He became, however, discouraged with the apparent slowness of his progress,’ and disheartened at difficulties, for none was now at hand to enable him to surmount them, and at this period there were very few aids to art-instruction. For a time, indeed, Harding abandoned the pursuit of painting altogether, and applied himself to engraving. A year was spent in this new field of study, and we must not deem the time lost, for the knowledge of the principles of this branch of art then acquired, doubtless proved of service to him in various ways, but especially in the obvious assistance it would be to him in his subsequent efforts in lithography. Again, however, Harding resolved to be a painter, and again he applied himself with renewed energy to the study of nature. It may be interesting to mention that Mr. Harding himself states that he became, early in his career, dissatisfied with the methods of representing the atmospheric greys and negative hues of shadows then in vogue. These were painted first, and the ” local “.or ” self” colours of objects passed over them, contrary, the artist argued, to the analogy of Nature herself ; for, in nature, the effects of atmosphere and shadow must necessarily intervene between the eye and the objects viewed. Convinced of the erroneousness of the principles then commonly practised, the artist thenceforward adopted and taught exactly the opposite method of painting the local colours first, and upon them the greys and shadows. While still young, the Society of Arts awarded the artist a silver medal for a water-colour drawing. In 1820, as lithography began to be employed in this country, Harding turned his attention to it. He soon appears to have discovered that, although it could not be brought to compete with engraving in finish and completeness, the capabilities of lithography. (with its granulous texture and facility of execution) for the exhibition of the best qualities of a sketch and all the rudimentary kinds of drawing could scarcely be over-estimated and that, therefore, it was the best medium for diffusing good examples for instruction. Several series of sketches, published from time to time under the titles ” Lessons on Art,” ” Lessons on Trees,” ” Elementary Art,” and ” The Principles and Practice of Art “– known not only to every artist and amateur, but to every tyro in art—attest the perfection to which Mr. Harding brought the practice of lithography. Less generally known are several illustrations in water colours of Byron, which were published on a large ‘,scale. Some little time previous to the publication of these illustrations the artist was elected into the ranks of the Old Society of Painters in Water Colours, of which society he afterwards became a leading member. About the same period the Academie des Beaux Arts awarded him two gold medals for his lithographic drawings. In 1830 he went to Rome and Naples, and brought back sketches on coloured paper. He was one of the first also to introduce the use of opaque as well as transparent colours in water-colour painting, much against the prejudices of the founders of the art in England—a practice now, however, very generally adopted, particularly by Cattermole, Nash, Lewis, and W. Hunt. In 1836 he published his ” Sketches at Home and Abroad.” In this admirable work was for the first time shown the advantages afforded by the printing of a tint, especially for representing atmospheric effects. The result exactly resembles chalk drawings on tinted paper, touched with white — a favourite description of drawing with the great Italian masters. During the the latter years of his career he, like another great master in water colours — David Cox—painted pictures in oil, several of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy. These, however, met with little favour from the hangers, and, in truth, made little impression upon critics or the public. The artist seemed, in them, to have stepped a little out of his own proper sphere. Marvellous facility of execution and abundant evidence of great knowledge of art-principles were there ; but yet they conveyed an impression of inadequacy and incompleteness, perhaps resulting from an insufficient conception of the peculiar exigencies of the new material. Mr. Harding was a man of varied mental acquirements, and his reputation is great, abroad as well as at home. Critics of the most opposite views have acknowledged his great merit as landscape water-colourist, draughtsman, and teacher. Mr. Ruskin has paid him the highest eulogiums, though Harding’s principles were almost diametrically opposed to those of the Pre-Raphaelites. Perhaps no living artist is more skilled in the use of every appliance of his art. Perhaps no living artist has depicted a greater variety of scenery, English and foreign. His landscape sketches are among the finest that could be named. His drawings of foliage, though slight, and therefore necessarily conventional, and though representative rather than imitative, are singularly suggestive of character. Estimated by the services he has rendered the artistic public as a teacher, both by pen and pencil, he takes, we think, the very first place. We must, however, in the interest of art, not ignore the fact that there are higher aims in painting than can be attained by any means which do not rise far above sketching, however dextrous, diversified, and valuable to the student. Our portrait is from a photograph by Messrs. Cundall and Downes, New Bond Street.

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