MESSINA, KINGDOM OF SICILY
Titled in pencil l.r., monogrammed l.l. JDH
Pencil heightened with bodycolour
24 x 39cm
James Duffield Harding made several trips to Sicily during the course of his career: it is thought that the first coincided with his trip around the Italian peninsula as part of the commission to provide illustrations (with his teacher Samuel Prout) for Thomas Roscoe's The Tourist in Italy, published as part of a special issue of The Landscape Annual in 1832. Unlike his views of mainland Italy, comparatively few drawings of Sicily by Harding survive, and the present work provides a rare view of an Island largely untouched by the industrial changes ongoing in Europe at the time.
James Duffield Harding was born in Deptford, the son of a drawing-maser who had been a pupil of Paul Sandby. He learnt perspectival draftsmanship from his Father and was also taught by Samuel Prout in his youth. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was 13; though for several years he struggled with painting and was briefly apprenticed to an engraver. He eventually overcame this early difficulty and by the age of eighteen had been awarded a Silver Medal by the Society of Arts. Three years later he exhibited with the Society of Painters in Watercolours, a group with which he exhibited for the remainder of his career.
Harding was an early adopter of lithography as a means to disperse his drawings and watercolours more widely, and published numerous works as instructive material for students. The earliest of these were largely drawing-books of sketches from nature, which were especially well-produced by the standards of the day and won him acclaim at home and in France, where he was awarded two gold medals by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Harding's popularity in France led him to dedicate his Sketches at Home & Abroad (1836) to King Louis Philippe.
Harding's later educational publications were Lessons on Art; Guide and Companion to Lessons on Art; Elementary Art, or the Use of the Chalk and Lead Pencil advocated & explained; and The Principles and Practice of Art. Among his students, of whom there were many, Harding numbered the young John Ruskin, who praised him fulsomely in Modern Painters.
Harding's first Italian views were exhibited in 1830 (his first visit was in 1824), and were largely done on papers of a variety of tints and textures. Such was the popularity of this paper that Whatman produced that they were called 'Harding's papers'. Alongside this important influence on the broader development of British watercolour painting, Harding in part popularised the use of bodycolour for more effects than simply heightening in white (a technique pioneered amongst English artists by Turner a generation earlier).