Dating to 1908, this whimsical and spirited watercolor painting is the work of the English-Canadian illustrator Dudley Ward. A “Dingbat” comic character attempts to escape a frog tethered to a lily pad as a pair of scientifically minded timekeepers tally how fast the poor fellow can run. After moving to Canada in 1910, Ward was hired to create advertising calendars for the pharmaceutical company Charles E. Frosst, which featured variations on these little gnome-like fantasy figures, showing them employed busily performing medical care on other bizarre creatures. The imagery was so appealing the company continued publishing Dingbat calendars for 81 years with a succession of different artists. Health professionals all across Canada received a calendar annual which featured the healing efforts of The Dingbats. In recent years the company was taken over by a major American manufacture to become Merck-Frosst.
This painting was executed several years before the first published calendar appeared – the eventual published Dingbat characters are closely modeled on the figures seen here. The painting is reminiscent of the watercolor work of Heinrich Kley, the German artist known for his inventive imagery combining surrealism and comic humor in depictions of anthropomorphized animals and phantasms. Painting is in a nice state of conservation with some minor toning and light scattered soiling to the unpainted areas of the illustration board, nicely matted and framed under glass.
William Dudley Burnett Ward (1879 – 1935)
William Dudley Burnett Ward (AKA: Dudley Ward) was an illustrator, cartoonist and poster artist.
He was born in Graveley Bank, Staffordshire, England and died in Montreal, Quebec. He emigrated to Canada about 1910 and lived in Toronto, Ontario as well as Montreal.
His mediums were watercolor and gouache*. His most famous subjects are gnome-like fantasy figures he called “Dingbats”. His style merged Surrealism with Cartoon character art.
He studied at the South Kensington Art Schools [now Royal College of Art], London under Tom Browne; as well as in Amsterdam and Brussels.
In England, he contributed as an illustrator and cartoonist to the publications Ally Sloper, the Illustrated London News, and Bystander. In Canada he contributed to McLean’s, the Courier, Canada Weekly, and the calendars of Charles E. Frosst & Co. (a Canadian pharmaceutical company now part of Merck).
He was a member of the Society of Graphic Arts, Toronto. He also exhibited with the Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto) in 1912; the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1914, 1918, 1929 and 1931; the Ontario Society of Artists in 1915, 1916 and 1917; and the Art Association of Montreal [now Montreal Museum of Fine Arts] in 1915, 1925, 1926, 1931, 1933 and 1935.
His works are in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.