Ralph Hedley: (1851-1913) was a realist painter, woodcarver and illustrator, best known for his paintings portraying scenes of everyday life in the North of England.
Born in Richmond, Yorkshire, Hedley and his family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1850. He studied art and design at the government school in Newcastle, and attended evening classes at the Life School under William Bell Scott. After serving his apprenticeship, Hedley established himself as a successful painter of portraits and landscapes, as well as an accomplished woodcarver. Examples of his wood carving work can be found in both St Andrew's Church and The Cathedral Church of St Nicholas in Newcastle, where he designed the chancel.
Hedley first started exhibiting his paintings in Newcastle in 1878. He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, Vice-President of the South Shields Art Club, and had more than forty of his paintings displayed at the Royal Academy between 1879 and 1904.
Today, Hedley's paintings are appreciated for the record they provide of everyday life in Tyneside in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even at the time of Hedley's death in June 1913, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle recognised the value of his work, arguing that "What Burns did for the peasantry of Scotland with his pen, Ralph Hedley with his brush and palette had done for the Northumberland miner and labouring man.".
A number of Hedley's works, including Cat in a Cottage Window and Last in Market are known throughout the world, many of them reproduced and popular as prints. In March 2004, The Tournament, depicting a group of boys having a piggy back fight, sold for £44,000 - a record for a Hedley painting at auction.
Hedley is the most recent Newcastle figure to be honoured by the city's Commemorative Plaque Scheme. The plaque was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, Councillor George Douglas, on Monday 29th November 2004, at 19 Belle Grove Terrace in Spital Tongues, where Hedley lived from 1885 until his death in 1913. The property now forms part of the Belle Grove public house. Guests attending the unveiling included relatives of Hedley, and Julie Milne, the curator of the Laing Art Gallery. The Laing holds one of the largest bodies of Hedley's work, including 41 oil paintings and three watercolours, and a major exhibition devoted to Hedley in 1990.