Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) 1924

Reginald Granville Eves 

Portrait of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Reginald Granville Eves
Oil on canvas
20th Century
24 x 20 inches 60 x 51 cm
Charles J. Sawyer 1972
Although he was much portrayed by the end of his life, it is the paintings of Eves that seem best to capture the character of the man who by the nineteen twenties was revered not merely as one of the most accomplished writers in English but also as an intriguing survivor from the age that he chronicled.

Hardy's sittings to Eves in 1924 resulted in a number of canvases, of which the completed painting must be that in the collection of the Tate Gallery. Slightly larger than the present example and more finished, particularly in the background, it does not, perhaps, display the same spontaneity and freedom. This sketch -like the others that Eves produced from the sitting, examples of which are in the collections of Yale University and the National Portrait Gallery- is a powerful study of the character of a man whose attitude to his talent was distant and even antagonistic.

The training of R G Eves was a suitable apprenticeship for one who was to be described as ''one of the most appealing British portraitists of his time''. He studied at the Slade from 1891, where his tutors included Tonks, Legros and Brown, and where he attracted the favourable notice of Sargent. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and in 1926 won the gold medal of the Paris Salon. The clients of his London practice included Sir Max Beerbohm, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Giles Gilbert Scott and Stanley Baldwin.

Hardy was born 2 June 1840 at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet near Stinsford in Dorset. On both sides he came of the native Dorset stock. Hardy's life at home, and in rural society round about, gave him many experiences of which it would be impossible to exaggerate the importance; for his deeply retentive nature kept them vividly alive in his mind, and from them, more or less transformed, supplied many years later rich material for his art. Thus, by good fortune, as a very small boy he attended one of the last of the old-fashioned harvest-home suppers at which the full tradition of these celebrations was still unimpaired, to the inestimable advantage of Far from the Madding Crowd; and when we learn that some of the military were there too, it is impossible not to think of Sergeant Troy.

In 1856, when he was sixteen, Hardy was placed as a pupil with John Hicks, an ecclesiastical architect in Dorchester for whom his father had worked as a builder. By the time he was twenty, Hardy was proficient enough in his architecture to be employed by Hicks on the disastrous restoration of old churches then in vogue. As may be supposed, he later came to regret this; but the work that it gave him must have been of the greatest value in the unconscious education of his art. He used to speak later of the ''three strands'' in his life at this time architecture, study of the classics, and participation (musical and otherwise) in the rural society of Bockhampton. Hardy, with a more conventional education, might have become a scholar; but for the man he was to become, the poet and novelist, it is difficult to imagine an education more suitable than the intertwining of these ''three strands''. However, believing that he ought to advance himself in his profession, he decided, on his friend Moule's advice, not to go on exploring Greek tragedy, but to give all his mind to architecture; and he seems to have become an expert Gothic draughtsman. In 1862, at the age of twenty-two, in accordance with his father''s wish that he should by then be earning his own living, he sought work in London, with nave prudence taking a return-ticket. The return-half was not needed; he almost at once found employment with Sir Arthur William Blomfield, to whom Hardy''s training in Gothic was a strong recommendation.

Hardy remained five years in London, and got to know the town well. He worked hard at architecture, but his interest at this time was almost entirely in poetry. Ill-health in London made Hardy return in 1867 to Dorchester, and to architectural practice with Hicks again. But by this time he was bent on writing; now, however, determined, for purely practical reasons, to try his hand at prose fiction. The Poor Man and the Lady was the result, a comprehensive satire of socialist tendency, said to resemble Defoe in style. Public acclaim came with the publication of Under the Greenwood Tree, which Tinsley bought for 30 and brought out in 1872. It was well received, and Tinsley suggested a serial for his Magazine. Hardy agreed, made much better terms, and wrote A Pair of Blue Eyes, which, when published in book form (1873), had considerable success. While he was busy with this last novel (Sir) Leslie Stephen, strongly attracted by Under the Greenwood Tree, wrote proposing a serial for the Cornhill, of which he was then editor. Still hoping to get back to poetry, and regarding prose fiction chiefly as a means of livelihood, Hardy, with no more immediate ambition than to be ''considered a good hand at a serial'', sent Stephen some chapters of Far from the Madding Crowd. It was accepted and began to appear (anonymously) in the Cornhill for January 1874; and was at once recognized as something remarkable. Hardy finished the book at Bockhampton during the summer, close to the district where the scene of the story was laid, which, he said, he found a ''great advantage''. In September he and Miss Gifford were married. Far from the Madding Crowd was published in two volumes in November, and had great success - a fact imperfectly appreciated by Hardy himself, then living at Surbiton with his wife after a honeymoon abroad.

In 1878 The Return of the Native appeared; and thenceforth for close on twenty years his fiction was not only his profession (a fact which he still at times regretted), but also an art of noble form, amazing wealth of substance, and profound significance. The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and The Woodlanders (1887) must be grouped with the earlier Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native, their prelude Under the Greenwood Tree, and with the two later novels of more extended, more epic, structure, Tess of the D''Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), as together forming one of the supreme and most individual achievements of the art of fiction in English. Between these two last came the strange experiment of The Well-Beloved (serially, 1892; revised and published in book form, 1897); and interspersed among the series of the novels were several collections of admirable short stories, Wessex Tales (1888) and Life''s Little Ironies (1894), and two sets of tales linked together by the occasion of their telling, A Group of Noble Dames (1891; incomplete in Christmas number of the Graphic, 1890) and, a minor masterpiece, A Few Crusted Characters (1891). A collection of stories not hitherto published, A Changed Man and Other Tales, was made in 1913. All the novels except the first two had come out serially; Tess and Jude were deliberately modified to suit the delicacy of editors, while the final form of The Mayor of Casterbridge was a drastic revision of the more sensational serial version.

Hardy's career as a writer of prose fiction was now at an end. He had never himself required more of it than a means of modest subsistence; but now at long last he could devote himself to poetry, which he had, in fact, been writing off and on during his work as a novelist.

Hardy's first wife died in 1912. In 1914 he married Florence Emily, daughter of Edward Dugdale, of Enfield (but of a Dorset family). He received the Order of Merit in 1910, and, what especially pleased him, the freedom of Dorchester in the same year. In 1909 he succeeded Meredith as president of the Society of Authors. He received honorary doctorates from the universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, and Oxford, and was an honorary fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and of Queen's College, Oxford. He died at Max Gate 11 January 1928. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart was interred in the churchyard of Stinsford.
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