The Sunday Section: Art - Charles Burton Barber

I think I can say with some certainty that a lot more people probably recognise the paintings of Charles Burton Barber while remaining unaware of his name; I know I’m one of them.  I’m pretty sure the first time I saw his work was on an advert for Pear’s Soap!

Charles Burton Barber was born in 1845 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.  He started studying at the Royal Academy when he was 18.  A year later, in 1864, he received the silver medal for drawing.  Two years later, at age 21, he had his first exhibition there; he continued to exhibit at the RA until 1893.

What Barber most enjoyed painting was the natural world, especially deer.  However, it was his paintings of dogs and children that would prove the bigger earner as they were perfect for the commercial market.  It could not have been easy for him to abandon his favourite subject, but he had a family to support.

He was not only a painter, he was also a skilled carver in, both, wood and metal; he made his own fittings.

Barber was a great admirer of the work of Sir Edwin Landseer; it is believed that he was inspired by it as he too loved the outdoors and painting deer.  Following the death of Landseer, Barber was chosen as Queen Victoria’s court painter.  A quiet, private man, Barber did not use his new position to expand his reputation.  The only income he earned from the Queen’s patronage was from the commissions themselves. 

Whereas Landseer painted mainly the royal family, Barber painted the Queen, her grandchildren, and their pets.  Landseer tended to paint his animals with more human expressions, but Barber’s animals retained their animal-like expressions.   By keeping his animal subjects with their own features yet still managing to convey sadness, excitement and longing, Barber carved out a niche for himself.

In 1876, the Queen commissioned Barber to paint what would be titled ‘Queen Victoria and John Brown’ as a gift to her faithful servant.

'Queen Victoria with John Brown'

Barber was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1883.

He received his final commission in 1894; a painting of Queen Victoria seated in her pony carriage with her grandchildren, and surrounded by dogs.

Charles Barber died in 1894, in London, at the young age of 49.  There isn’t much information about him that I could find, and that includes his family, and cause of death.

Much of his art is at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, Cheshire.  There are about 5 of his works that are in The Royal Collection, where they are held in trust.  Under English law, not even photographs of these paintings are allowed in the public domain; they remain licensed by the Royal Collection.

Today, as in in his lifetime, there are those who belittle his skills as a painter and his art, maybe because he allowed his work to be mass produced for public consumption.  I’ve said before, I’m no artist, but I know what I like.  And I enjoy his depictions of children and their pets, especially the natural expressions of the animals.  That he ‘cashed’ in on the marketability of his work, embracing his responsibilities as a family man, I find admirable.

'Blond and Brunette' (1879)

'Off to School' (1883)

'Playmates' (1885)

'Girl with Dogs' (1893)

Barber's work was not only for the public; soap manufacturers A&F Pears and Lever Brothers owned ‘Suspense’ (Lever acquired Pears in 1916; the painting probably came with the company)

'Suspense' (1894)


'A Rival Attraction'

'Any Port in a Storm'


'In Disgrace'

'Little Girl and Her Sheltie'

'My First Partner'

'Serenade (The Broken String)

'The Little Baker with Her Two Assistants'

'Time to Wake Up'

'A Favourite Pet'

'The Sisters of Charity'

'No Ride Today'