There's a rather large painting above the fireplace in the parlour of the Ruskin Hotel at 23 Montague Street, London (across the street from the British Museum). It's painted directly on the wall plaster above the fireplace and measures about 2 by 2 meters. It's a pastoral scene consisting of a man on a horse who's tossing something (coins?) to a boy standing beside the horse. There are a bunch of cows lying on the ground in the general vicinity of the two people. All in all, it's a reasonably interesting painting that definitely dominates the parlour.

The really interesting bit is the photocopies of two letters that are mounted on the wall to the right of the painting. The top letter reads:

21 September 1933.

Dear Colonel Gordon,

I have carefully examined the picture discovered over the dining room fireplace in the House in Montague Street, and have come to the following conclusions regarding it and the name of the painter.

The scene represents the country with meadow lands near Camden Town and with the Northern Heights in the distance. The style of painting is that of James Ward, some time animal painter to the Duke of Bedford.

Ward was staying at Woburn in 1801 and worked for the famous Boydell and the Agricultural Society. His early style was modelled on that of James Morland. I have no hesitation in attributing this particular painting to his authorship.

To remove the painting would be very costly and rather dangerous. The work has been executed on the ordinary plaster surface. If the painting is to be removed it will mean constructing a special steel frame and underpinning; also needling and shoring the existing brickwork. It would be quite possible to do this with great care, and the process would be costly. The other alternative seems to be to frame the picture under glass and leave it in its present location.

Yours faithfully,

The lower letter reads:
2nd October 1933.
Dear Professor Richardson,


The enquiries into the occupiers of these premises from the years 1800 to 1842 have now been completed and disclose that the house was not finished and occupied until 1808. It was apparently unoccupied in 1809 but from Bedford Office records one George Green appeared as occupier in 1810-11. From 1812-1842 Philip Courtnay appears both in Bedford Office records and the Rate Books as the assignee and occupier.

The house was built by William Ellenborough Allen.

I trust that this information may help you with regard to the picture which has been discovered.

Yours sincerely,

Professor A.E. Richardson,
41 Russel Square

So there you have it. It appears that someone was renovating 23 Montague Street in 1933 and came across the painting in question. Fortunately, they chose to leave the painting intact and it's still there for guests of the now Ruskin Hotel to ponder as they watch television in the parlour.

James Ward (1769-1859) was an artist of some repute. He has paintings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Cavendish Collection and elsewhere. As it turns out, he is particularily well known for his roughly 200 paintings of cows. A search on Google for "James Ward" 1769 1859 yields about 370 hits, practically all of the first fifty of which appear to be for the "correct" James Ward (i.e. James Ward really is a reasonably significant artist).

One wonders just how many other "treasures" of this sort are hidden behind wallpaper and such in other older buildings around London (probably quite a few).

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