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Ralph Hedley: Portrait of John George Wilson Esq.

17th March 2020.

A striking portrait by one of the most popular Victorian artists in the North East, Ralph Hedley, is to be included in Tennants Auctioneers’ Sporting Art Sale on 25th April. ‘Portrait of John George Wilson Esq., Fishing’, is being offered with an estimate of £5,000-7,000 plus buyer’s premium.

Ralph Hedley (1848-1913) was born in Gilling West near Richmond, North Yorkshire, but the family moved to Newcastle in 1850 seeking opportunities created by the boom in industry in the city. Having demonstrated early artistic talent, Hedley was apprenticed to a woodcarver at the age of 13 whilst also studying art and design at the Government School in Newcastle. After completing his apprenticeship, Hedley set up on his own as a successful woodcarver, and his work can be found throughout the North East, including in many churches such as St Nicholas’ in Newcastle.

However, he took every opportunity to work as an artist, producing lithographs for the local newspapers, and painting as an when he could. In 1879 Hedley had his first painting accepted into the Royal Academy – ‘The Newsboy’, and he would go on to exhibit over fifty works in the prestigious London gallery. One of the founding members of the Bewick Club, Hedley did much to promote and exhibit the work of fellow artists in the North East.

Hedley was much admired for his detailed and realistic depictions of everyday life on Tyneside in the late 19th and early 20th century. He chronicled day-to-day scenes of sailors, children in the street, shopkeepers, labourers and more. With deft execution, he captured life with an acute sense of observation.

The sitter in the portrait, John George Wilson, was a great friend and patron of Ralph Hedley and lived at Staindrop Hall, County Durham. Hedley painted him and his family on several occasions, and a charming painting of Wilson’s son, A.A. Wilson, was sold at Tennants in 2016. Painted seated, presumably on the side of a river, John George Wilson holds his rod and a book of fishing flies, his catch lined up at his side. It was included in an exhibition of British Sporting Art at the Bowes Museum in 2010.

Ralph Hedley (1848-1913)

Portrait of John George Wilson Esq., full length, seated on a low wall, holding a fishing rod and book of flies, his catch beside him

Oil on canvas, 150cm by 99.5cm

Provenance: John George Wilson Collection, Staindrop Hall, Country Durham; thence by descent

Exhibited: Bowes Museum 2010

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