Joseph Bartholomew Kidd

(1808 - 1889)

Little is known of his family background and early life. He was a pupil of the landscape painter John Thomson of Duddingston [q. v.]. On the foundation of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1826, Kidd was elected one of the original Associates, and became an Academician in 1829. He practised painting at Edinburgh till about 1836, when he came to London, resigning his membership of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838. In 1830, he was commissioned by John James Audubon to paint copies of one hundred of Audubon's drawings of birds, but his dilatoriness (uncountable delay) caused Audubon to terminate this undertaking in December 1833.

Kidd practiced as a landscape painter in Edinburgh until about 1835, when he sailed to Jamaica, remaining there on and off until 1843, visiting New York in 1837, and London between 1839 and 1840. Views of Jamaica were engraved between 1838 and 1840. He had resigned from the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838, and, after his return to Britain in 1843, he settled in Greenwich as a drawing master and lived there until his death in May 1889, at the age of eighty-one. Kidd chiefly painted the scenery of his native country, and executed a few etchings of highland views. Some of his pictures were engraved. Not long before his death he painted a portrait of the queen for the Royal Hospital Schools, Greenwich.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Athenæum, 25 May 1889; The Queen, 18 May 1889; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 31, by Lionel Henry Cust

J. B. Kidd was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1808. A landscape painter, he was one of the original associates of the Scottish Academy of Art, where he was a regular exhibitor.

Between 1835 and 1843, Kidd visited Jamaica three times, where his older brother, Thomas Patrick Kidd was in business as a general merchant in Falmouth. During his visits he became enthralled with the Jamaican landscape and captured in pencil and paint Jamaica's "superb and picturesque" scenery as he called it. He is also known to have done some portraits including sketches of slaves.

He then held a show of his paintings in Falmouth, which was said to be the first display of its kind ever seen in the colony. It was staged at his brother's home and advertisements inviting the public were inserted in the Falmouth Post. It was very favourably reviewed in The Jamaican Standard, where the reviewer remarked on the rare occurrence of an artist excelling in both portraiture and landscape painting. His Scottish and Jamaican landscapes were evidently much admired by the local gentry and he was often commissioned to paint scenes and portraits for them.

Kidd's paintings found ready purchasers, and with the success of his Jamaican works, he embarked on the most ambitious art publishing project originating in Jamaica at that time.

During 1836, he wandered around the island making sketches for his projected set of lithographed West Indian Scenery: Illustrations of Jamaica, in a series of views comprising the Principal Towns, Public Buildings, Estates and most picturesque scenery of the Island. By September 1837, Kidd published Part I of his illustrations of Jamaica. The illustrations however, were unaccompanied by any descriptive text or notes. The overwhelming success of the five plates in this series, led to the translation over the next four years of a total of fifty drawings and paintings done in Jamaica in lithographs.

The subjects of the series are varied, giving us a comprehensive view of the Jamaican environment in the last days of the pre-emancipation era. From individual studies of plants and trees to vast vistas of townscapes and estates, from much admired "beauty spots" to the unusual views of Kingston "from the Commercial Rooms", we have been bequeathed a visual essay of Jamaica's extraordinary beauty. J. B. Kidd died in Greenwich, England in 1889.

A list of some of the lithographs done by J. B. Kidd in his West Indian Scenery. Illustrations of Jamaica:
"The Date Tree.
Sugar Works in the Distance"
"The Parade and Upper part of Kingston from the Church. Looking towards the Port Royal Mountains"
"View of the Hope River. Near Dunsinane"
"Sketch of Bamboos and Cotton Tree"
"Cocoa nut walk on the coast near Runaway
"Mountain Cottage scene"
"City of Kingston from the Commercial Rooms. Looking towards the South"
"Lethe Estate on the Great River, St. James and Hanover"
"Savanah La Mar"

John Bartholomew Kidd, a Scottish landscape painter, studied under Thomson of Duddingstone. He was in 1829, one of the foundation members of the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1836, he migrated to Greenwich, where he taught drawing for many years. He resigned his position of an Academician in 1858, after which date nothing further is known respecting him.

[Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876]

Shortly after his arrival in London, Audubon received a call from Joseph Bartholomew Kidd, a young artist whom he had met at Edinburgh the previous March, and was attracted so much by his "youth, simplicity and cleverness" that he again invited him to paint in his rooms. On the 31st of March, 1831, an agreement was made with Kidd to copy some of his drawings in oils and put in appropriate backgrounds. "It was our intention," said Audubon, "to send them to the exhibition for sale, and to divide the amount between us. He painted eight, and then I proposed, if he would paint the one hundred engravings which comprise my first volume of the Birds of America, I would pay him one hundred pounds."

In 1832, Captain Thomas Brown gave this notice of the undertaking in the Caledonian Mercury: --About a year ago Audubon conceived the grand idea of a Natural History Gallery of Paintings, and entered into an agreement with Mr. Kidd to copy all his drawings of the same size, and in oil, leaving to the taste of that excellent artist to add such backgrounds as might give them a more pictorial effect. In the execution of such of these as Mr. Kidd has finished, he has not only preserved all the vivacious character of the originals, but he has greatly heightened their beauty, by the general tone and appropriate feeling which he has preserved and carried throughout his pictures.

Kidd worked intermittently on some such scheme for about three years, and produced numerous pictures on canvas or mill-board. He was thus engaged in 1833, when he wrote to ask for an advance of from twelve to fourteen pounds on account of an accident that had befallen him on the 16th of May of that year. Kidd said in his letter that while he was attending a sale of Lord Eldin's pictures, the floor of the building suddenly gave way with a crash and precipitated the whole company, together with the furniture, into a room below; that he had sustained many bruises himself, not to speak of a dislocated arm, but what with blisters, cupping, nurses and remedies of all sorts, he was then slowly mending. Another of their projects was to publish Kidd's copies of Audubon's drawings as individual pieces, and a notice of this appeared in Blackwood's Magazine for 1831. John Wilson, in reviewing Audubon's work in the magazine for that year said: "it is expected that there will be completed by Audubon, Kidd, and others, - Four Hundred Subjects. Audubon purposes opening, on his return [from America], an Ornithological Gallery, of which may the proceeds prove a moderate fortune." All such plans, however, seem to have been delayed or frustrated, and a misunderstanding with Kidd brought them suddenly to a close in 1833. Audubon's explicit directions under this head were given in a letter to his son Victor, written at Charleston on Christmas Day of that year.

Kidd, who was twenty-three at the time he began to work for Audubon, died in 1889, when he had attained his eighty-first year. Many of these paintings survive, but it is not always clear whether the artist was Audubon or Kidd.

[Exerpt from Audubon the Naturalist, a history of his life and time, Francis Hobart Herrick; Benezit Dictionary of British Graphic Artists and Illustrators, Volume 1.]

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