Benjamin Barker of Bath was a British painter of landscapes in oil and watercolour. He was the elder brother of Thomas Barker of Bath (1769-1847).
Beset by a troubled childhood, Barker’s story is one of tragedy, endeavour and determination. The son of a ‘luckless’ gentleman, he overcame the odds to become a painter of note in a city with a rich artistic heritage.
Born in 1776, Barker’s father, also Benjamin, was an amateur artist from a wealthy family. However, according the press, he’d become a ‘luckless wanderer’ dithering aimlessly. Following a spell in Pontypool, where he found gainful employment at the ‘Japan Works’, he took the family to Bristol where a tragic incident occurred. By misfortune, one of his sons fell into the water near Bristol Drawbridge and drowned.
Benjamin Barker Junior would’ve been around five years old and clearly traumatised by this shocking event. To make matters worse, it seems that his father tumbled into a state of some distress and, by which point, the family was almost broke. Thankfully, due to the kindness of a ‘Mr Jones’, Barker Senior was handed a lifeline and encouraged to move to Bath where he began work at a livery stable while also continuing to hone his artistic prowess.
In an effort to raise funds, young Benjamin and his brother sought to develop their own painterly skills. Both were trained locally and began to produce small old master copies, which were sold from their cottage abode - hung in windows to attract wealthy passers by.
Bath was popular with affluent travellers seeking to rejuvenate within its miraculous spa waters and the little paintings were met with much approval. In particular, a ‘Mr Spackman’ became a considerable patron and enabled the boys to develop their abilities further.
The English Poussin
Some years later, following Thomas’s return from Rome, the brothers held a joint exhibition at a gallery within the elder brother’s new home. This was a significant moment and the Barker’s had truly arrived. Several wealthy patrons acquired their works - high praise in a city synonymous with Gainsborough.
This growing notoriety led to Benjamin being labelled the ‘English Poussin’ - his classically-inspired landscapes reminiscent of the great painter. But perhaps it would be fairer to compare his gorges, precipices, and ruins with that of Italian Baroque painter Salvator Rosa (1615-1673).
Benjamin Barker of Bath, View of a River with Rocks and Trees (1815)
During a lecture at the Royal Literary Institution, Mr Frederick Shum (1823-1916) described two of Benjamin’s works as “full of poetry and to a contemplative mind suggest a thousand thoughts”.
Like his brother before him, Benjamin also built a house in the city, which doubled as a viewing gallery. It became a popular haunt for various dignitaries and hosted a visit from Queen Charlotte during her stay.
Benjamin Barker of Bath, Pony Cart Crossing a Woodland Brook
Towards the end of his life, following a noteworthy career, he moved to Totnes where he died after a ‘lingering illness’. A tablet was affixed at 16 Bathwick Street, Bath to commemorate his life.
Benjamin Barker of Bath exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Watercolour Society, the British Institution among other venues. And today, he’s represented in numerous public collections including the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Eton College, Government Art Collection, National Museum Wales, National Trust for Scotland, National Trust, The Courtauld, Victoria Art Gallery, V&A Museum, and the Yale Center For British Art. 48 of his landscapes were engraved in aquatint by Thales Fielding (1793–1837).
Born in Pontypool, Wales. Father was Benjamin Barker, a gentleman and artist.
Moved with his family to Bath, England.
Debuted at the Royal Academy with three works. He would continue to exhibit until 1831.
Died in Totnes, England.