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he painter Henrietta Ward was born into an artistic family: her father George was a painter and engraver and her mother Mary was a miniaturist, while her paternal grandfather James Ward was a well-known painter of the Georgian era. Consequently, as a child she was surrounded by figures from the early Victorian art world, and her early display of creative facility was met with no surprise. She made her exhibition debut at the RA at the age of fourteen (1846)

Study of the young Henrietta Ward by her husband in 1847.

Such professional precocity was equalled in the personal sphere when she became engaged to marry painter Edward M. Ward in 1847, when she was still only fourteen years of age. (Her fiancé meanwhile was aged thirty.) Without her parents’ consent, they married in 1848, causing a familial estrangement which lasted many years. Despite this, Henrietta always maintained that her marriage was a happy and beneficial one, advancing her career as well as bringing her personal happiness. She bore eight children and was left a widow in 1879.

She got her art training at Sass’s academy, enriched by lectures at the Royal Academy (which were technically open to any to attend, although Ward records the sparse numbers of women there making her feel self-conscious) as well as informal tuition from her husband. Her appearances at the RA, virtually annual until about 1880, continued until 1921. She was a founding supporter of the Society of Female Artists, and also exhibited regularly at the London winter exhibitions and regional annual exhibitions such as Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Her work was included in the Great Exhibition (1851), its successor the International Exhibition (1862), and subsequent equivalents such as the Centennial Exhibition (Philadelphia 1876), the Exposition Universelle (Paris 1878), and the Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl's Court (1897).

Ward was a history painter, like her husband, and suffered both from the novelty of a woman working in this genre and invidious comparison with E.M. Ward. The work of both Wards could be described more exactly as historical genre, centring on anecdotes featuring notable individuals from British and French history, but it was only Henrietta whose choice of subject-matter was critically downgraded or patronised by being treated as domestic. As Roy Strong has observed, her subjects were in fact mainstream favourites, ranging from Rowena (1851) through Queen Mary quitting Stirling Castle (1863) to Lady Jane Grey at Sion House (1868) and Defence of Lathom House (1874). She interspersed these major compositions with smaller canvases of domestic anecdote such as God save the Queen! (1857), Bedtime (1859) and Fetch it! (1861), evidencing great industry as well as the typical approach of that time to painting as a job rather than a vocation. Several collectors of contemporary art purchased her work, along with some provincial public galleries including Leicester City Art Gallery, Bristol City Art Gallery and the Walker, Liverpool.

On her husband’s death in 1879, Ward opened a school of art for women, which, building on the fact that she had taught the Queen’s young daughters from the mid 1850s, boasted royal patrons and aristocratic pupils. Her regular exhibition appearances became more sporadic thereafter, but by this time two of her daughters, Eva and Flora, had begun to exhibit paintings and her son Leslie had begun his career as caricaturist Spy, maintaining the family tradition.

Despite her close ties with the establishment, Henrietta Ward was a supporter of votes for women and signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage published in 1889. She wrote her autobiography, Reminiscences, in 1911, and a minimally amended version of it, Memories of Ninety Years, appeared in the year of her death, 1924.

Link to related material


Dafforne, James. “British Artists: Their style and character, lxxvii: Henrietta Ward (Mrs E.M. Ward).” Art Journal 1864: 357-9.

Day, Michael. Henrietta Ward. A Victorian Artist in Slough. Slough: S.T.E.A.M., 2006.

Maude, R.W. “Mrs E.M. Ward: Royalties as Artists.” Strand Magazine xvi (October 1898): 366-71.

McAllister, Isabel, ed. Memories of Ninety Years. London: Hutchinson, 1924.

Nunn, Pamela. “The Case History of a Woman Artist: Henrietta Ward.” Art History 1, 3 (September 1978): 293-308.

O’Donnell, E. ed. Mrs E.M. Ward’s Reminiscences. London: Pitman 1911.

W.T.W. “Mrs. E.M. Ward’s Classes in Gerald Road.” The Ladies’ Field, 12 August 1899: 445-7.

Created 10 March 2022