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Lot 70: Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894) FRIEND OR FOE?
March 4, 2013
Ballsbridge, Dublin, IrelandLive Auction
Description: signed lower left; with faint inscription of artist's name and indistinct title on stretcher on reverse; with Coolings Galleries, London label on reverse
Friend or Foe? is documented in the 1896 text by Harry Furniss, the artist's neighbour and biographer who remembers the painter as "…the gentlest and truest of friends, and the sweetest-natured man that ever held a brush". It forms part of a much-admired body of work comprising child subject genre pieces, animal and sporting pictures.
The present work shows the recurrence of three characters familiar in his paintings of the 1880s, the little blond model, a Jack Russell and kitten. However, the scene before us is set outdoors focusing solely on nature and the wonder it has inspired in three companions. The little girl is caught away from parental eyes and those constraints imposed on a child from an affluent Victorian home. Capturing the attention of the three is a frog and a wasp facing-off in the foreground of the composition. Their audience's curiosity can be seen in the intense gazes, the girl's outstretched arms and spread fingers, the tension in the animals' paws and their pricked ears, each depicted with exquisite precision, attention to detail and reverence to the subject.
Burton Barber died at the premature age of 49. He was prize-winner with the Royal Academy where he showed 13 works throughout his career. He also showed at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Fine Art Society, Grosvenor, Walker and Arthur Tooth & Sons Galleries among others. Recognition came through Royal patronage in 1873 with Queen Victoria commissioning him as court painter upon the death of Sir Edwin Landseer, whom Burton Barber much admired. Among the paintings executed include a portrait of the Queen on horseback with John Brown holding the reins. The artist's last work was for the Queen, which he painted in the summer of 1894; it depicts the Queen in her pony carriage with the Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg in the foreground at Osborne.
The appeal of Burton Barber's paintings was not lost on the advertising world. A. & F. Pears soap acquired a number of works which they later employed to sell their product. Other examples were engraved or reproduced as chromolithographs.
Cooling Galleries, London;
Dimensions: h:18 w:24in.
Artist or Maker: Charles (1845-1894)
Literature: Furniss, H., The Works of Charles Burton Barber, Cassell & Co. Ltd., London, Paris and Melbourne, 1896, (illustrated p.53)
Medium: oil on canvas