Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Claxton, Marshall

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CLAXTON, MARSHALL (1813–1881), painter, born at Bolton in Lancashire on 12 May 1813, was the son of the Rev. Marshall Claxton, a Wesleyan minister. He was a pupil of John Jackson, R.A., and also a student of the Royal Academy, entering that school in January 1831. In 1832 he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy, a portrait of his father, and in 1833 his first subject picture, 'The Evening Star,' in the same year also exhibiting his first picture at the Gallery of the Society of British Artists. In 1834 he exhibited his first picture at the British Institution, and obtained the first medal in the painting school at the Royal Academy. In 1835 he was awarded the gold medal of the Society of Arts for a portrait of Sir Astley Cooper, and he also gained a silver medal from the same society. In 1837 he went to Rome, and remained some considerable time in Italy. In 1843 he competed in the Cartoon Exhibition at Westminster Hall, and obtained one of the additional prizes of 100l. for his cartoon of 'Alfred in the Camp of the Danes,' which is now the property of the Literary and Scientific Institute at Greenwich. In 1844 he again took part in the competition at Westminster Hall with two frescoes of the 'Death of Abel' and the 'Building of Oxford University,' and again in 1847 with a large oil painting of the 'Death of Sir John Moore at Corunna.' The success of his 'Alfred in the Camp of the Danes' excited his ambition, and gained him considerable success. His activity and power of production, however, exceeded the demand for his works, and in 1850, having a number of pictures undisposed of, he conceived a new, and in those days original, plan. With about two hundred pictures by himself and others Claxton started for Australia, with the intention of founding, if possible, a school of art at the antipodes and disposing of some of his pictures. On his arrival he exhibited gratis the works he had brought with him, this being the first exhibition of works of art in Australia. He met with but little reward for his enterprise, and transferred himself and his pictures to India, where he disposed of most of the latter. He also visited Egypt, and about 1858 returned to England with a portfolio full of reminiscences of his travels. While in Australia Claxton was commissioned by Miss Burdett-Couttsto paint there a large picture of 'Christ blessing the Little Children,' which is now in the schoolroom of the church of St. Stephen's, Westminster, and has been engraved by Samuel Bellin. This was the first historical picture painted at the antipodes. The same lady also commissioned several other works, among them 'Spenser reading the Faerie Queene to his Wife and Sir Walter Raleigh' (engraved by E. Webb for the Art Union of London, 1847), the 'Mother of Moses,' the 'Free Seat,' the 'Grandmother.' Claxton also received commissions from the queen, for whom he painted 'General View of the Harbour and City of Sydney, Australia,' and 'Portrait of the last Queen of the Aborigines.' He exhibited numerous works at the Royal Academy and elsewhere, among which were 'John Wesley, being refused the use of the Church, preaches to the people from his Father's Grave,' the 'Deathbed of John Wesley,' 'Sir Joshua Reynolds and his Friends,' the 'Last Interview between Dr. Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds,' 'High Church, Low Church, and No Church' (a picture in three compartments), 'Christ at the Tomb of Lazarus,' 'The Jews mourning over Jerusalem,' and other scriptural works, besides portraits and scenes from domestic life. To the International Exhibition of 1862 he sent his picture of the 'Sepulchre' (engraved by S. Smith), which he afterwards presented to the South Kensington Museum, and which is by some thought to be his best work. Claxton was an ambitious and industrious painter, but lacked the strength requisite to rise to a high position in his art. He died at 155 Carlton Road, Maida Vale, on 28 July 1881, after a long illness, aged 70 (according to the Times obituary). In 1837 he married Sophia, daughter of T. Hargrave, J.P., of Blackheath, by whom he was the father of two daughters, who have attained some repute as artists.

[Times, 4 Aug. 1881; Athenaeum, 13 Aug. 1881; Ottley's Dictionary of Recent and Living Painters; Our Living Painters; Graves's Dictionary of Artists, 1760-1880; Catalogues of the Royal Academy, National Art Gallery, South Kensington, &c.; private information.]

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