Auction sale of Sheffield paintings with fascinating history

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Nine watercolour paintings by a fascinating 19th century Sheffield artist who fought in the American Civil War have been sold for nearly £24,000 at auction.

Thomas Bush Hardy was born near West Street and grew up in the city centre and in Broomhall.

One of his childhood homes was an impressive property which is now a trendy city centre bar - The Old House, at 115 Devonshire Street.

Hardy grew up to become an accomplished marine artist - 45 of his paintings now make up a collection at Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust.

Yet how and why he fell in love with the sea - especially when he was born and brought up miles from it, in landlocked Sheffield - is a mystery.

Hardy was born at Trafalgar Street, near West Street, in May 1842, the son of brass finisher Thomas Hardy senior and his wife Amelia Bush.

Young Thomas started his working life in Sheffield as an optician, possibly apprenticed to his maternal grandfather, William.

But when he was a small boy Hardy’s young life was shattered when his father died aged no older than his thirties, some time between 1841 and 1851.

Thomas and his mother, a hatmaker, went to live at her parents’ home - 115 Devonshire Street in Sheffield.

The house now forms the central segment of The Old House bar - formerly the Halcyon - and was large enough to also accommodate Amelia’s three sisters Hannah, Mary and dressmaker Caroline, along with Caroline’s husband William Batt, a merchant’s clerk.

Some time between 1851 and 1861, his grandparents moved to Upper Hanover Street in Broomhall and Thomas Bush Hardy was with them there in 1861.

That summer, at the age of just 19, he went off to fight on the Unionist side in the American Civil War.

However his military exploits ended early when he was wounded, and he returned to Sheffield after only a few months away.

In 1862, aged 20, he married his girlfriend Mary Ann Lovne and the couple went on to have eight children, including three - Edith Kate, Dudley and Florence - born in Sheffield.

Hardy’s wife was only 44 when she died in 1886 and, four years later. in 1890, Hardy remarried when he was 48.

His second wife, Muriel, was only 20 years old - 28 years his junior and younger than at least three of his children.

As an artist, according to his biographers David Kirby-Welch and John Morton Lee, Thomas Bush Hardy was ‘one of the most successful and prolific artists in an era when English marine painting in watercolour reached its zenith’.

The nine pictures auctioned at Bonhams in London were painted mostly in the 1880s when Hardy was in his forties. In total the lot raised £23,686, and the two most valuable - both Venetian scenes, a Hardy speciality - each fetched £5,625.

The current world auction record for a Hardy painting is £23,500, paid at Christie’s in South Kensington in 2000 for an oil entitled The Arrival Of The Fleet. It is one of Hardy’s last works, created the year he died, in 1897, aged 55.