From the National Gallery’s Collection in 1861 to Hardy’s exploration of artistic themes in his poetry and prose

Thomas Hardy and Art

From the National Gallery’s Collection in 1861 to Hardy’s exploration of artistic themes in his poetry and prose

Helen Lange, Thomas Hardy Society

This paper will trace the artistic legacy of Hardy’s work.

The environment in which Hardy grew up inspired art; both his isolated, heathland home an

d the surrounding hills, which fostered childhood drawings and later poems. There are many mentions of artistic forms in his early work.

In 1861, as a twenty-one year old architectural assistant in London, Hardy had the time and the inclination to devote himself to a period of self-education. A significant aspect of this self-education was studying individual works of art, for twenty minutes per painting, in the National Gallery.

There are many paintings which we know Hardy studied, through his references to those works in his novels and short stories, as well as others, which inspired poems. From those early days of the National Gallery many paintings are referenced in Hardy’s work, not least in the case of the sub-title of Under the Greenwood Tree – ‘A Rural Painting of the Dutch School.’

Hardy’s literary works are works of art in themselves, in more ways than one, as this paper will show.

Helen Lange is well-known to many in Dorchester and beyond and has acted as Chair of the Thomas Hardy Society. She has given many talks on the West Country’s greatest writer. A lifelong lover of Hardy and a former teacher of English, Helen Lange moved to Dorset for her last post in education, in 1995 and joined the Thomas Hardy Society soon afterwards.

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