Completed British 18th C, except portraits, British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 19 Is this painting after Henry Aston Barker? Are there other examples of his work in oil?

ABD_UA_31629
Topic: Artist

It's a pity this painting is in poor condition, since it is either a version or a copy of another Gibraltar oil attributed to Barker, which was included in the Barbican 'Panoramania' exhibition in 1988 (cat. no.45, oil on canvas, 74 x 136 cm, on loan from Kyburg Ltd).

Barker had gone to Gibraltar in September 1804 on board HMS 'Hydra' (no doubt a naval courtesy, given he was well known and with Royal Navy connections) to take drawings for the huge 'View of Gibraltar and Bay' which he exhibited at his Panorama building in Leicester Square in spring 1805.

This view, taken from the end of the ‘Devil's Tongue’ battery, formed the principal subject of the painting, taking up about 45 degrees of the entirely circular view in which spectators standing (as it were) at the end of the battery were enveloped by some 10,000 square feet of painted canvas. It was also lithographed by J. B. Harraden and published as one of a pair of large Gibraltar prints by Barker and T. Palser in 1808, though the published 'key' to the Panorama version does not include the shipping shown in any of the other versions, so one cannot assume that more than the land elements were the same.

I raise this to ask if anyone can provide other examples of work by Barker in oil. This is the only one on Your Paintings, and the Kyburg version shown in 1988 is the only other one I can think of. Both have some quality, even allowing for damage here, which suggests there should be more by him: but where? Or, if not, perhaps the oils are not by him but someone else associated with him: the Kyburg version was (I think, only attributed via the subject and viewpoint, not signed and — among other differences of detail — has a British frigate anchored in port-bow view to the right of the battery, where this one and the print have a lateen-rigged local vessel.

The University of Aberdeen welcomes any further information about this painting.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade King,

The artwork was determined to be a two-part print by Harraden laid on canvas of 'View of Gibraltar, taken by Henry Aston Barker, from the Devil's Tongue Battery, in September 1804', instead of an oil painting of the 'Port of Gibraltar'.

This record will be removed from Your Paintings as currently the remit only includes works incorporating oil, acrylic or tempera. The collection's records, however, have been improved as a consequence of this discussion. Many thanks to all who took part in this discussion. Please see below for the comments that led to this conclusion.

The new version of the Your Paintings website will be updated with the removal of the record in early 2016.

18 comments

Tim Williams,

Bernard Comment's 'The Panorama' states that Aston Barker collaborated with his father Robert Barker on oil panoramas - the first one in oil (rather than tempera) being 'View of the Fleet at Spithead' - 1794. So there is precedent for him working in oil.

Tim Williams,

Apparently his brother Thomas Edward Barker was also a successful panoramist who worked with Reinagle. I'm guessing that the fate of many of these panoramas were the same as those by Cocks - too large to hang or store anywhere safely, they were probably rolled up, attracted mould and then disintegrated. I suppose it's only now that what's essentially 'fairground art' has started to be appreciated as something more than merely ephemeral.

Tim, the Barkers panoramic activity, including the separate activities of TE Barker, are quite well covered: Henry succeeded his father Robert at Leicester Square, married a daughter of Rear-Admiral William Bligh (of 'Bounty' fame) and was a successful man: the question is just whether there is any further evidence of him as a gallery-scale oil painter. You are correct about the disappearance of most large scale panoramas, though 19th-c. examples do survive (Barker-type circular ones in the Netherlands, USA, Canada and Switzerland for example).

Tim Williams,

Forgive my ignorance and for skimming the topic - I don't know how, but I've not really registered the Barkers before - more herculean figures from that era.

So there's the twofold possibility of the Aberdeen picture being a study for the print or a copy after the print.

It looks to be a very fine painting under that discoloured varnish. Can't find any sales records, exhibition history or references for any other easel pictures. Do the Witt have anything more?

Dr. Scott Barnes Wilcox at the Yale Center has done quite a lot of research on Barker.

This blog looking at the history of the Panoramas is excellent:
https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/robert-barkers-leicester-square-panorama-the-rotunda/

If there really is no other evidence of Henry B. as a painter in oil, one would have to consider the likelihood that both the Aberdeen picture and the other version lent to the Barbican 'Panoramania' show might be copies from his panorama version somehow related to the large print, and by another hand. Scott Wilcox did an MA on the Barkers at Edinburgh over 30 years back (which includes a checklist of their shows), and we are in frequent contact: I don't think it was published as a specific study, but its an area in which he has published and they are however well covered in the general panorama literature. I'm sure they are in ODNB which should list the key sources before 2004, though not more recent panorama books of which there have been several. Ralph Hyde - who organised the Barbican show- had become the great local authority on them (starting from the printed sort) and had long been working on a dictionary of panoramists when he died suddenly in June this year: its not yet clear if that can be usefully continued/completed by others.

Tim Williams,

I've struggled to spot any differences in this picture and the etching. However, if this picture was sanctioned by Barker I think he would've probably painted it. He seems to have cared enough about the quality of his output to have etched his own plates. Since the panoramas were executed with a specific viewing perspective it would've been tricky to scale one down for the etching, so he would've used his sketches for this purpose, as would the aquatinter and colourists. It seems quite plausible that he might render an easel picture at some stage for assistants to have a key for colouring etc, for visitors to purchase, or one off commission. The handful of extant easel pictures by Cocks supports this theory to some extent, plus if it's a copy after the etching it's quite an extravagant exercise with apparently little reward. I think that high res images are required, and some of the back to see if it's possible to determine whether the materials and execution date this picture to Henry B's lifetime.

Certainly worth pursuing further if hi-res could be provided, not least since this version is closer to the large print than the Kyburg one (I wonder where that now is) in terms of the shipping.

Jade King,

The collection have given permission for me to post the high resolution image. Please see attached.

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Tim Williams,

It looks like paper laid to canvas - are the collection certain it is not an overpainted engraving?

PCF - Please chase collection so we can try and resolve this: if it is the 1808 aquatint print version by Barker and J.B. Harraden laid down on canvas and then touched up it will be in two parts, joined, each of which had an image (not sheet) size of 490 x 664 mm (HxW)

Osmund Bullock,

Peter & Tim, it must be that - the join is quite clear in the high-res image, running vertically just to the right of the two central foreground soldiers.

However it seems possible that some, at least, of the shipping has been added later, particularly that on the left-hand side. Look at the size of the group of people in the boat nearest to the ‘Devil's Tongue’: they are in the same plane as the two soldiers, and should be comparable to them - but instead they are much bigger. Their outline may be less clearly delineated than that of the soldiers, too, though it's hard to be sure from the image.

Thanks Osmund but I don't think its been adjusted by content additions of that sort: the titivating is more the application of Chinese white highlights etc that has now oxidized. If you look at the detailed section shown from a good original print half way down this page (http://gibraltar-intro.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/1804-nauticus-cataline-bay-october-1804.html) its the same as regards what is shown. Rather more tell-tale on the high-res is the hole/tear to the left which is fairly clearly of paper over canvas.

The conclusion appears to be that it is really not an oil painting but a doctored print laid on canvas and that the evidence of Henry Barker painting in oil is questionable. We know he did the drawings on which this was based (and other panorama subjects) but the only recorded painting attributed to him so far is the oil version of Gibraltar -but with different shipping- lent to the 'Panoramania' show in 1988, which was not signed and could easily be by another hand copying the print. Unless anyone can point to conclusive independent evidence otherwise, the case for him being an 'oil painter' of gallery works rather than a panoramic draughtsman looks weak.

What we need here is a response from Aberdeen to say they have taken note so this one can be ticked off.

Jade King,

The collection have been contacted. I will relay any response.

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, yes - I hadn't seen the print before. Thanks, Peter. And looking again, I think my eyes were deceiving me: the men's heights don't seem wrong after all, more a question of the soldiers having rather less bulk.

Just another winding-up prompt if the collection could kindly confirm whether this really is an oil painting or in fact a copy of the large lithograph by Harraden that Barker published in 1808, laid on canvas and touched up. If that's the case, and given that no-one has produced any other oils by Barker beyond the Gibraltar version mentioned in my original query, I now suggest it is unlikely that he painted in oil at all - the said Gibraltar oil probably being copied by some other hand from the print.

As a quick PS: the existing 'Port of Gibraltar' title is -at best- very odd for any view of Gibraltar and not original. If, as suggested, it is in fact the two-part Harraden print laid on canvas, the original title of that is:

'View of Gibraltar, taken by Henry Aston Barker, from the Devil's Tongue Battery, in September 1804'

Jade King,

The collection say:

'This is definitely a print laid on canvas. I attach a photo showing the join between the two sections. Please amend the catalogue record to say that it is a two-part print by Harraden laid on canvas of 'View of Gibraltar, taken by Henry Aston Barker, from the Devil's Tongue Battery, in September 1804', instead of being an oil painting of the ‘Port of Gibraltar’.'

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