Heywood Hardy, R.W.S. (Chichester 1842 - West Sussex 1933)

The Meet at the Bell Inn

signed ‘Heywood Hardy-’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 57cm (15.7 x 22.4 in)


Provenance: with N. Mitchell Gallery, London;
from whom purchased by Edward Tilling (1855-1935);
thence by descent to the previous private collector.

Under a clear blue sky, mounted riders, splendidly attired in their scarlet coats, prepare for a day’s hunting. Since the main hunting season starts in the autumn, it could be a crisp early November day, especially given the majestic bare trees. A woman, perhaps a maid at the Bell Inn, hands out the traditional glasses of port or whisky as the hunt gathers at their morning meet. The pack of hounds can scarcely contain their excitement, and two bounce over to the woman as she hands out the glasses. In the distance, the rest of the hunting party can be seen assembling.

A number of similarities can be identified between Heywood Hardy's A Halt at the Inn, (Private Collection) and the present work. The compositional structure and tonal palette are remarkably alike. Moreover, the woman who has just stepped from the inn porch, and is flanked by two excited hounds, moves towards the mounted huntsmen proffering a tray and is almost identical to the woman in A Halt at the Inn. In both works, the complementary pastel tones of the sandy path and bright blue sky accentuate the vibrant scarlet of the riders’ coats.

Hardy was born into a family of artists, his father James Hardy (1801-1879) being a well known landscapist. Eschewing London for Paris, he spent a number of years studying at the Beaux-Arts as well as in Antwerp. Returning to England in 1868, Hardy’s services as an artist were greatly in demand. He was frequently commissioned to paint portraits, sporting scenes and animal studies, and he did so with a unique fusion of the British School artist's techniques and increasingly impressionistic brushstrokes. The latter is hardly surprising given Hardy's initial training in Paris at the pinnacle of the Impressionist movement. Writing in 1881, Shepherd comments that ‘it [British School of painting] is probably superior in individuality, variety of treatment, and purity of motive [than the Impressionists].’¹ It was in landscape and genre painting that artists of the British School truly excelled, and where Hardy’s sensitive and naturalistic renditions of the outside world came into their own.

Hardy shared a studio in 1870 with the animal painter Briton Riviere (1840-1920) and specialised in romantic scenes set in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, often clothing his figures in period dress. He painted The Cleveland Hounds Exercising by the Sea in 1891 for the Wharton family, as well as another study of the hounds with Colonel and Mrs. Wharton at Shelton Castle in 1899. His other sporting patrons included Sir Frederick Millbank (1820-1890) and Colonel Wyndham Murray. Hardy also collaborated with Hon. John Collier on the portrait of Gerald Heywood Hardy, Master of the Meynell Hunt which was painted in 1913. Hardy was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1880, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1891 and became Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1885.

A note on provenance; Edward Tilling was third son of Thomas Tilling, the founder of the eponymous bus company. Until nationalisation in 1948, Thomas Tilling was a vast transport company which by 1914 had 7,000 grey horses pulling their coaches. In the late nineteenth century, Tilling had insisted on using grey mares and it is said that Queen Victoria used them for her State drives. Under Edward and his older brother Richard's direction, Thomas Tilling developed the first regular suburban bus service from Peckham to London and by the time they were nationalised they accounted for 50% of all the road passenger transport in the country. Edward lived in Bromley, Kent and built a large collection of watercolours and oils formed before World War II with the help of Arthur Tooth.

¹ Shepherd, G. H., A Short History of the British School of Painting.