Thomas Jones Barker

(1815 - 27 March 1882)

Historical painter, was born in Bath, England in 1815, the eldest son of a prominent painter, Thomas Barker. Barker studied in Paris under the French military painter Horace Vernet. He exhibited at the Paris Salons in the late 1830s and 1840s, including his important and arresting picture "Bride of Death" (1838-9). Barker returned to England in 1845, living in London and exhibiting at the Royal Academy until 1876. His major paintings were of scenes in the Napoleonic, Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars. He also established some reputation as a portrait painter.

At age 19 he went to Paris in 1834, and studied for several years in the studio of Horace Vernet. During his time in Paris he painted extensively for prominent families, and received many gold metals in regional showings for his work. In 1845, he returned to England, settled in London, and became known as a painter of portraits and military subjects. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and many of the most distinguished men of the times sat for him. On the outbreak of the Franco-German war in 1870, Barker became prominent as a painter of military works.

"Queen Victoria Presenting a Bible" (1861) and "The Relief of Luchnow" are at the National Portrait Gallery. "The Bride of Death" is at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, where other works by the Barker family may also be seen.

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The Secret of England's Greatness, Queen Victoria presenting a Bible in the Audience Chamber at Windsor


British Artist -- Thomas Jones Barker

England possessed what France has at Versailles, a gallery almost expressly devoted to a pictorial record of her military exploits, the artist whose works would find the most prominent place in such a collection would assuredly be Mr. T. Jones Barker, who is certainly the Horace Vemet of England. Mr. Barker is the eldest son of Thomas Barker, who settled in Bath towards the close of the last century, and acquired a good reputation as an artist in England. His son was born in Bath, in 1815; and, after receiving an education at Heckingham College, commenced the study of painting under his father, then went to Paris in 1835, and entered the studio of Horace Vernet, whose pupil he was for many years. During his residence in France, Mr. Barker was a frequent exhibitor at the Salon, and received three gold medals from the Government. He painted several pictures for Louis Philippe, the principal one being a very large canvas representing "The Death of Louis XIV". It was, unfortunately, destroyed, together with one by Horace Vernet and another by Paul Delaroche, at the sacking of the Palais-Royal in 1848. For the Princess Marie, youngest daughter of Louis Philippe, Mr. Barker painted, in 1840, "The Bride of Death", for which he received the decoration of the Cross of the Legion of Honour.

When Mr. Barker returned to England, in about 1845, we find him exhibiting some portraits at the Royal Academy; for example, one, in that year, of Mrs. Campbell, of Islay; and, in 1847, two single portraits, with a group entitled "Beauties of the Court of Charles II.: Portraits". This picture shows a cavalcade of fair ladies, including Queen Catherine, the Duchess of Cleveland, and others, attended by the King himself, who occupies a conspicuous place in the foreground, the Duke of Hamilton, the Chevalier de Grammont, etc, all attired in the extravagance of the fashion of the time. The picture is highly elaborated. In 1849, he sent to the Academy a subject called "The Troubadour", suggested by a passage in a poem by Sir Walter Scott describing the death of one of these wandering minstrels on the battle-field, whose last song expresses the duty of a "valiant troubadour" to fall in fight for love and fame. The next year he contributed to the same Gallery "News of Battle -- Edinburgh after Flodden". Randolph Murray, arrayed in plate-armour, having escaped from the disastrous field of Flodden, is seen riding slowly and sadly through the streets of Edinburgh, surrounded by a concourse of people demanding intelligence of the fight, as described in one of Aytoun's "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers";

"Round him crush the people, crying, 'Tell us all -- oh tell us true!
Where are they who went to battle, Randolph Murray, sworn to you?
Where are they, our brothers -- children? Have they met the English foe?
Why art thou alone, unfollowed? Is it weal, or is it woe?'
Like a corpse the grisly warrior looks from out his helm of steel,
But no word he spoke in answer -- only with his armed heel
Chides his weary steed, and onward up the city streets they ride,
Fathers, sisters, mothers, children, shrieking, praying, by his side:
'By the God that made thee, Randolph! tell us what mischance hath come!'
Then he lifts his riven banner -- and the asker's voice is dumb."

The picture was hung so high in the Gallery it was not easy to examine it in detail, but one could see sufficient to show that the sentiment of the subject was well sustained. In 1851, Mr. Barker exhibited at the Academy a very large painting with groups of figures and animals the size of life, illustrating, and called, "An Incident in the Life of William Bums", who, while hunting in the New Forest, was jeopardised by a stag at bay, when Adela, a lady of the Court, "seeing the danger of the king," so the Chronicle says, "spurred up in time to kill the deer and save the life of her royal lover." The action of the whole group is full of spirit, and the drawing of the whole is good. From an episode in the history of the "Red King", we were invited by the painter, in 1853, to one on the life of Wellington, during his campaign in the Peninsula. Being in the village of Soraulen, near Pampeluna, on July 27th, 1813, he observed a movement of the enemy which induced him to dismount instantly from his horse, write a hurried note in pencil on the parapet of the bridge, and send it off to one of his generals by Lord Fitzroy Somerset. The incident is skilfully depicted, and the picture may be considered as the first of those scenes of modern warfare by which Mr. Barker has chiefly made his reputation, and that have become popular by means of the engraver's aid; many of these pictures have never been exhibited except in the galleries of the printsellers for whom they were painted. The principal of them are the following; the majority are on canvas of very large dimensions.

"The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher at La Belle Alliance" painted in 1851, for Alderman Sir G. F. Moon;
"The Allied Generals before Sebastopo",
"The Relief of Lucknow", and
"General Williams leaving Kars", all three painted for Messrs. Agnew;
"Napoleon after the Battle of Bassano: or the Lesson of Humanity";
"Wellington Crossing the Pyrenees",
"Lord Nelson receiving the Swords of the Spanish Officers on board the San Joseph", painted for Messrs. Hayward and Leggett;
"Surrender of Napoleon III. at Sedan", painted from sketches made on the spot by Mr. Barker, the day after the battle;
"Lord Nelson in the Cabin of the Victory at Trafalgar".
Among the artist's other large engraved works, which cannot be classed within the category of these pictures, are,
"The Horse-race in the Corso at Rome", engraved in line by W. Greatbach;
"The Noble Army of Martyrs" or "The Champions of the Reformation";
"The Intellect and Valour of Britain: The Duke of Wellington reading Dispatches in his Private Cabinet at Apsley House", painted on the spot;
"The Secret of England's Greatness".
Several of these compositions have been spoken of in our pages when they have come before us in the form of engravings.

Two pictures, suggested by incidents in the Crimean campaign, were sent to the Academy exhibition of 1855; one was called "An Incident at the Battle of Balaklava", and showed a trooper's horse standing by the side of his dead master, which an eye-witness stated he saw the faithful animal do for upwards of an hour. The other represents the charger of Captain Nolan bearing back his dead master to the British lines. From 1855 to 1860, Mr. Barker was absent from the exhibitions of the Royal Academy; but in the last-named year he sent "The Horse-race at Rome", the first idea of the large engraved picture "II Corso"; and a portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Lockhart, M.P., painted for the County Hall, Lanark. In 1862, he contributed "The Dawn of Victory -- Lord Clyde reconnoitring the position of the Enemy".

Mr. Barker had now laid aside, at least for a time, what may be called his "war canvases," and employed his pencil on subjects of a less exciting nature. Such is his "Studio of Salvator Rosa", exhibited at the Academy in 1865: he had sent nothing there since 1862. The composition is full of appropriate character; it shows this wild, weird-like, yet vigorous Italian painter a prisoner among the banditti of the Abruzzi, painting the portraits of these picturesque outlaws, according to what Lady Morgan describes in her Life of Salvator Rosa; "but for which she seems to have had little, if any authority; some later writers, indeed, reject it altogether. Still the story served Mr. Barker for a capital picture. The next year he exhibited a scene from Goethe's Faust, "Margaret in the Cathedral: the Whispering of the Evil Spirit", where she exclaims:

"Woe! ah woe!
Would I were free of all these evil thoughts
That through me pass, and will come over me,
Spite of myself!"

Margaret is seen with her hands clasped, and with her face to the spectator, as if in an agony of inward excitement; the picture is carried out with greater care as to finish than we often see in his works. "Cavaliers Retreating", a presumed incident of the great Civil War, is a spirited composition, that hung in the Academy in 1867, as did in the year immediately following, "Sunny Hours at Sunnyside", a pleasing composition, wherein are the figures of a gentleman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Crompton Roberts: this may be called a portrait picture.

When the Royal Academy opened its new galleries at Burlington House, Mr. Barker was there with two pictures; one "A Moss-trooper", raising himself in his stirrups to take a survey of the country before him; the other, a scene between "Dean Swift and Stella", as described by Mrs. Jameson, in her Women Wooed and Won by Poets, wherein the lady, "broken in heart and blighted in name," pleads with the Dean to acknowledge her as his lawful wife; but to no purpose, though Stella was at the time drawing near to her life's end. The story is told with considerable power and pathos, and especially so if we bear in mind that the artist's strength lies in subjects of a very different character. "Woman interceding for the Vanquished", exhibited at the Academy in 1871, is a very different version of the subject given by Etty many years ago, in his large and well-known picture. Mr. Barker shows the interior of a cottage in the olden time, in which is a woman pleading with the officers of justice on behalf of a wounded poacher; a composition manifesting great skill and energy. The latter quality is carried almost to the extreme, yet it aids the attractiveness of the picture.

From the year 1872, Mr. Barker has exhibited nothing but war pictures; in that year he sent to the Academy "The Melee: Charge of Prussian White Cuirassiers and Chasseurs d'Afrique, near Vionville, 15th August, 1870" -- a composition much in common with all such scenes: a few men desperately engaged in the front, and in the background smoke and inextricable confusion; it is almost beyond the ingenuity of any artist to give much variety to subjects of this description. Certainly not among the least of the horrors of war are the sufferings of the poor animals which are made to share its disasters and its chances. Mr. Barker showed, in 1873, at the Academy, a pitiful example of this kind in his "Riderless War-horses, after the Battle of Sedan", painted from a sketch he made on the spot, September 3, 1870; here we see a number of animals, some of them, no doubt, grievously wounded, straying about the battle-field amidst the bodies of their dead masters. In 1874, appeared "Balaklava: One of the Six Hundred"; a subject which took a wider scope in the year 1876, when he exhibited the picture we have engraved for this (Art Journal) notice, "The Return through the Valley of Death", representing Lord George Paget, with his brave companions of the 11th Hussars and 4th Light Dragoons, about seventy men out of the "gallant six hundred," forcing their way through the forest of Russian lances which vainly interposed to bar their way. Here is none of the confusion of the battle-field; except for the dead bodies lying around, we might almost fancy we were looking on a charge at a review; we believe that every soldier here introduced is a portrait: the picture was painted under the supervision of Lord George himself, so that the work has a national historic interest, being in every respect trustworthy. It was the last picture exhibited at the Academy by the artist.

Among those which have never been brought before the public are "Mazeppa", is a simple but very dramatic composition, treated with true poetic feeling: the wild horse, with its sad burden, appears to be breathing its final gasp, as, wearied with fatigue, it falls down on the irregular rocky ground, in the twilight of evening. The group is admirable in design, and most effective in its arrangement. The other, "The Sister of Mercy" -- belonging to Mr. Bartrum, of Bath, who courteously allowed us to engrave it -- we may assume to be an episode of the battle-field, where is one of those self-denying women who of late years have been found in the track of armies, administering to the sick and wounded. She is binding up the limb of a French soldier, apparently "hit" both in the arm and the leg; he is resting against a horse, which certainly has made its last campaign. Here, as in the "Mazeppa", may be noticed good arrangement in the grouping, and poetic sentiment in the surrounding landscape and its various accessories.

We can scarcely pay Mr. Barker a greater compliment than we have already paid, when we spoke of him as "the Horace Vernet of England"; certainly he remains master of the battle-field among English artists; yet we may express a hope that amid the present threatening aspect of the political atmosphere he may not find subjects for future pictures in the ranks of the British armies, wherever else he may search for them.

The Art Journal; James Dafforne, April, 1878.

Thomas Jones Barker was the son of the painter Thomas Barker. He received his first training from his father and entered the Parisian studio of Horace Vernet in 1834. After his return to England in 1845, Barker contributed regularly to the Royal Academy and the British Institution, exhibiting historical, literary and hunting scenes. Barker was not favoured by the art critics of his day, nor was he rewarded with membership of the Royal Academy. His later work was painted with the print market in mind, and he enjoyed considerable commercial success. His principal patrons were print dealers such as the Manchester company Agnew & Sons.

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