Barker, Thomas (1769-1847) (DNB00)

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BARKER, THOMAS (1769–1847), landscape and subject painter, known as ‘Barker of Bath,’ was born at a village near Pontypool in Monmouthshire in 1769. His father, Benjamin Barker, who died in 1793, was the son of a barrister, but having run through considerable property, he took to painting horses, and young Barker at an early age also showed a genius for drawing figures and sketching landscapes. Through the removal of his family to Bath, the talents of the lad attracted the notice of a wealthy coach-builder of that city named Spackman, who received him into his house, and afforded him the opportunity of copying works of the old Dutch and Flemish masters. At the age of twenty-one he was sent by Spackman to Rome, and provided during four years with ample funds to maintain his position as a gentleman. This proved of great advantage to him, although while there he painted but little, contenting himself with storing his mind with knowledge for future use. He was entirely self-taught, and neither in drawing nor in painting did he ever receive a single lesson. On his return to England in 1793 he settled at Bath, and although he devoted himself chiefly to landscapes and rustic scenes, he painted occasionally also portraits and scriptural subjects. His career was successful, and few pictures of the English school have been more widely known than ‘The Woodman,’ which was engraved by Bartolozzi, and copied in needlework by Miss Linwood. While Barker's talents were in full vigour, no artist of his time had a greater hold on popular favour. His pictures of ‘The Woodman,’ ‘Old Tom,’ and gipsy groups and rustic figures, were copied upon almost every available material which would admit of decoration—Staffordshire pottery, Worcester china, Manchester cottons, and Glasgow linens; yet for this service rendered by the artist to the artisan he never claimed anything for copyright, but rejoiced in the reflection that his labours and his talent afforded profitable employment to others, and were the means of enriching more than himself alone. He nevertheless amassed a considerable fortune by the practice of his art, and expended a large sum in the erection of a house at Sion Hill, Bath, upon the walls of which he painted in 1825 a fresco, thirty feet in length and twelve feet in height, representing ‘The Inroad of the Turks upon Scio in April 1822.’ This was his most remarkable work, and possessed qualities of the highest order in composition, colour, and effect. In 1821 he painted and exhibited at Bath ‘The Trial of Queen Caroline,’ in which he introduced the portraits of many of the eminent men of the day. He exhibited frequently at the British Institution from 1807 until the year of his death, but his name seldom occurs in the catalogues of the Royal Academy, where he exhibited between 1791 and 1829. He also executed a series of forty lithographs of ‘Rustic Figures from Nature,’ published in colours in 1813, and thirty-two lithographs of ‘Landscape Scenery’ published in 1814. He died at Bath on 11 Dec. 1847. The National Gallery possesses a ‘Landscape: perhaps on the Somerset Downs,’ and ‘A Woodman and his Dog in a Storm,’ but the latter picture has been lent, under the provisions of the National Gallery Loan Act, to the corporation of Nottingham. In the South Kensington Museum are oil pictures of ‘Sheep-washing,’ dated 1807; ‘A Boy extracting a thorn from his foot,’ 1810; ‘Lansdown Fair,’ 1812; and four water-colour drawings. His own portrait, painted by himself, was in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868.

[Art Union, 1848, p. 51; Catalogue of the Pictures in the National Gallery, British and Modern Schools, 1884; Catalogue of the National Gallery of British Art at South Kensington, 1884.]

R. E. G.