Below are two paintings believed to be by the popular local artist John Ward (1798–1849) who was one of the leading marine and ship painters during the early nineteenth century. Although, they appear to be very similar there is one important difference, can you work out what it is?
Both paintings are set at the mouth of the River Hull and Humber shipping lane at sunrise with a view of steam and sailing ships in the background. Also featured in the paintings are lightermen rowing their small boats out into the river and two men in the midground looking out across the water, in what appears to be deep discussion. However, in the foreground of the picture there is a subtle but important difference. In the first painting, one man in red (possibly a dock worker), is seated on a rock or large piece of wood and appears to be smoking a long pipe. However, in the second painting this man is joined by an acquaintance who is seated to his left. The other gentleman is Black. He is wearing a yellow hat and light-coloured jacket with blue trousers and black shoes. He is also probably a dockworker and is smoking the same long pipe. Thus, while the first image shows an idyllic traditional and popular view of Hull’s maritime landscape in the early nineteenth century, the second painting represents a more faithful and accurate portrayal of actual Black presence within the port.
Undoubtedly, the paintings raise more questions than answers. It is believed that the second picture with the inclusion of the Black sailor was painted around 1800. If this is the case, then it could not have been painted by Ward since he would have only been two years old at the time. Given the scenery and artistic style of the work, it is possible that this early date is incorrect and that, in fact, Ward produced this work much later on. The first painting without the Black sailor has been dated to around 1835 and is believed to be by Ward. This begs the question whether Ward made a copy of the older picture (perhaps by an unknown artist) and then deliberately removed the Black figure? Or did he make a copy of his own painting and add the man into the scene later on? And if so why remove or add a Black dockworker? Additional historical research and pictorial analysis would need to be done in order for these questions to be more fully answered. Nonetheless, the paintings and their story remain intriguing.
With thanks to Dr Nicholas Evans for bringing this to our attention. If you think you have any further information about either of these painting, please do contact us here.
Dr Lauren Darwin
African Stories Project Researcher.