Joseph Wright looms so large over the firmament of later 18th century portraiture that we rather lose sight of what happened if a potential sitter either couldn’t get hold of him or couldn’t afford him. And, indeed, who came after him locally?
One artist who captured the local portrait market as the 18th century turned into the 19th was Richard Ramsay Reinagle. He painted extensively in Derbyshire, partly because he was firm friend with the young Bache Thornhill of Stanton Hall, Stanton-in-Peak, and partly because he secured a major series of commissions at Chatsworth. In 1813 he came to stay at Chatsworth and then at Stanton taking the opportunity to paint numerous Derbyshire grandees: Thornhills, Arkwrights, Mundys, and so on.
Another contemporary was Thomas Barber, who was perhaps a mite less accomplished than Reinagle, but was equally prolific. And, being local, he remained local, like Wright.
Barber was born at Nottingham 28th March 1771, only son of another well-to-do local man Thomas Barber (1729-1775) and Ann Abbott, formerly Mrs. William Tomlin. The father had been born in Castleton, and belonged to the numerous and ancient Dark Peak Barber family, so the artist had deep Derbyshire roots going back in his case to John Barber of Edale, yeoman, who died in 1535.
Having shown a talent for painting, young Thomas was packed off in 1786, to Sir Thomas Lawrence, RA, the epitome of a dashing Regency society painter. He worked in his studio until about 1793, when he returned to Nottingham and set up on his own account at Parkside, Nottingham, although his clientele expanded rapidly, he also opened a studio in Friar Gate, Derby in 1813, and many of his sitters were members of Derbyshire families, including more Arkwrights, Boothbys, Batemans, and high flying lawyer Lord Denman who lived at Stoney Middleton Hall.
His first wife was Mary, daughter of Hugh Atherstone, two years his senior, but she died in 1825, whereupon he married Anne, widow of the aristocratic Derby attorney William Bateman: hence the number of paintings Barber did of Bateman family members, including a delightful double portrait in 1816 of the eight year old Thomas Osborne Bateman and his younger brother Hugh, which hung at their seat, Hartington Hall, and later at their Derby villa, Litchurch Lodge, now the Rolls-Royce Social Club. Interestingly, when this portrait as sold at Christies in 1989 it made a respectable £8,000, but when offered again in Amsterdam in 1992 it only made £1,593 but picked up when sold at Bonhams, Los Angeles, for a shade above the lower estimate at £2,965.
He painted at least two self-portraits (a 21 x 17in half length sold at Gildings at Market Harborough in 2013 for £550 against an estimate of £600-800; another is in Nottingham Museum) and also painted copies of Joseph Wright’s better known pictures, not to mention some by Sir Joshua Reynolds, like that of Charles James Fox MP at Hardwick Hall.
In 1819, whilst residing in Derby, Barber exhibited a portrait of the actress Mrs. Siddons at the Royal Academy and, amongst the other Derby notables whose likenesses he captured were fellow artist, Octavius Oakley, John Radford of Smalley Hall (1809), John Balguy of Duffield Park, then Recorder of Derby, the Revd. Charles Hope, Tory vicar of St. Alkmunds, Revd. William Boultbee Sleath, headmaster of Repton and Waterloo hero Colonel William Thornhill of Stanton. Another Waterloo hero, Col. Sempronius Stretton of Nottingham (1816) sold very handsomely recently. He also did a series of Curzon portraits, to be seen at Kedleston, and there are others at Hardwick.
Barber also painted landscapes, including several of Dovedale and one of Matlock Bath in the collections of Derby Museum. They are scarcer than the portraits which tend to go in the £600-800 price range at auction, and can usually be relied on to make in the region of £1,500. He did several around Nottingham of which Nottingham City Museums have a good collection, and also of his portraits, mainly local grandees.
Barber died at Nottingham, whence he ultimately retired, in 1843 leaving by his first wife five sons, although a daughter and his eldest son Thomas (1796-1824) predeceased him. Thomas was also a promising artist, as was another son, Henry (1801-1878) although he later took Holy Orders. Two sons, Hugh and Frederick, migrated to South Africa and the former founded the landowning family of Hilton-Barber whilst Fred founded a dynasty too, called Mitford-Barberton after the name of the settlement he founded there.
It is possible to find drawings by Barber, but they are scarce, although even then not at all expensive. Some prints are available; a mezzotint after Nottingham Museum’s portrait of Lord Denman was recently on offer for almost £100, whilst a superb engraving by T H Shepherd after Barber’s view of Clarence Terrace, Regent’s Park made almost as much. Paintings by young Thomas and Henry are hard to find and even harder to identify, but workaday portraits are relatively plentiful. It is only with his landscapes and portraits of couples or children that he becomes fairly pricey. Yet, as a local artist of considerable standing, acquiring his work does not need to break the bank.