Atelier · November 17, 2006

Friday in the atelier: “A Special Pleader” by Charles Burton Barber

I believe that if Charles Burton Barber were alive today he would be a regular contributor to the “Cute Overload” blog.

Denigrated as ‘sentimental’ and as a ‘genre painter’ Barber was actually an excellent painter whose works compare with other masters. Others have described his genre as including cats, dogs, puppies, kittens, horses and cute little girls. I’d describe his genre as “Victorian Cute”.

But he was so good at what he did! Look at this painting, called “A Special Pleader.” He understands the human figure; he paints with great detail and realism, while at the same time he doesn’t try to paint animals with a more “human” nature.

Charles Burton Barber lived from 1845-1894 in London and Notting Hill, England, and achieved some greatness before he died at the relatively young age of 49.

By the age of 30 Barber had received commissions from Queen Victoria to paint her favorite dogs; and at the age of 38 he was elected as a member of the Royal Institute of Painters. Barton’s last commission in 1894 was also by Queen Victoria, to paint the Queen and her grandchildren. The Queen’s pony and carriage were also part of this painting.

Barber’s paintings were often turned into advertisements or turned into book and magazine illustrations, either as engravings or as chromo lithograph prints. His art was widely popular throughout England. This may have been to Barber’s detriment because he seemed to feel constrained to paint what would sell, rather than what he loved. He may have been miserable – which would have contributed to his early death.

On a side note – something that endears me to Barber a little more (besides my love of dogs and cats, among other animals) is that Barber did some wood working as a hobby. I haven’t seen any examples of this yet – so I would suppose that he used it as I do, as a way to relieve stress for his own enjoyment.