Cottage near Chippenham, c.1810

16th November 2021 / Collections

oil painting showing a cottage, next to river with a stormy sky

Benjamin Barker was an accomplished landscape painter from a family of artists that included his father, Benjamin the Elder (1729-1803), and brothers, Thomas (1769-1847) and Joseph (1782-1809).

Born in Pontypool, Wales in 1776, the family moved to fashionable Bath in 1783, where there would have been greater opportunities for the artistic family. In 1801 he married the sister of fellow artist James Hewlett, who was originally from Chippenham.

Barker was largely self-taught, learning by copying the pictures of other artists. Once established, he made sketching tours with his brothers to ‘picturesque’ areas, producing a series of watercolour and oil studies. His reputation, unlike his more famous brother Thomas, would remain largely local. He finally settled at Totnes, Devon, where he died in 1838.

Barker’s work is best known through a series of prints made by renowned engraver, Theodore Fielding. Forty-eight of these engravings were first published in 1824 and later reprinted in colour in 1843 under the title:

Benjamin Barker’s English landscape scenery:
a series of forty-eight aquatint engravings, by Theodore Fielding:
from original paintings in oil by the late B. Barker, esq

This oil on paper study relates to plate 45 Cottage near Chippenham from the 1842 publication, shown here. Their similar size suggests it could be one of the “original paintings in oil” on which the later print was based.

Volumes of landscape prints were the ‘coffee table books’ of their day. They were part of the wider Romantic Movement that emerged in the late eighteenth century. Romantic artists chose to show nature not only as beautiful, but also as a powerful, unpredictable and destructive force. This study shows just this, with man dwarfed by the forces of nature, under windswept trees and a stormy sky. This feeling of fear and awe was known as the ‘sublime’.