Happy New Year to you all. This week my father Robert has been busy looking through Victorian directories in the Leamington Spa Archives. In his diaries, Thomas Baker (1809 – 1864) gives the name of the clients who bought each listed picture. Some of them appear repeatedly, and Dad was keen to find out who these buyers were. The local directories identified many of Baker’s buyers as local figures, but one prolific buyer, Henry Wallis – who bought a run of fifteen paintings in 1851 – has remained elusive.
Wood of the Jephson Gardens 1851, bought by Henry Wallis (c) Private Collection
Over to Dad: “During the years 1846 to 1858, Thomas Baker tells us, through his diaries, that over 130 of his paintings were acquired by a ‘Mr Henry Wallis’. Unfortunately his does not give us any information about Wallis apart from his name.
The obvious conclusion is that Henry Wallis must be a picture dealer, but poring through local Business Directories of those years there is no record of him in Leamington Spa or the surrounding district
Perhaps the clue to help identify him would come from a close look at how an artist’s work was marketed in the mid-nineteenth century and Thomas gives us this information in his diary.
He gives us the names of purchasers, Edwin Parkes, a Carver and Gilder from Birmingham and local buyers such as Leamingtonians Mr Joseph Gilbert, a grocer and tea trader and Charles Barnard a linen draper.
Scene at Youlgrave, Derbyshire 1845 ‘Sold 7 guineas at Leamington Exhibition 1845, Purchaser H. Geo. Barnard Esq’ (c) The Cheltenham Trust and Cheltenham Borough Council
William Whitehead, owned an Artist’s shop at 5 Lansdowne Place in Leamington, and Baker sold him paintings as well as exchanging them for materials. Baker also taught Whitehead’s son, the watercolorist Frederick Whitehead (1853 – 1938).
Group of four cows ‘Sold Mr Whitehead’ (c) Birmingham Museums.
But perhaps the most important part of Baker’s marketing strategy was sending his pictures to the various Art Exhibitions of the day such has The Crystal Palace Picture Gallery (London), The British Institution Pall Mall (London), The Irish Art Union (Dublin), Belfast, and exhibitions in Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, and Nottingham etc.
Of these exhibitions there are two that are of significant interest The Crystal Palace Picture Gallery and The British Institution Pall Mall, because they were organised and run by London Art Galleries, one such gallery was The French Gallery in Pall Mall which was managed by a picture dealer by the name of Henry Wallis.
Henry Wallis was the brother of Robert Wallis (1794 – 1878), line-engraver and one of the ablest and supremely skilful landscape engraver, excelling particularly in the interpretation of the work of J.M.W. Turner.
Henry Wallis practised for some years as an engraver of small book illustrations, but early in life was compelled by attacks of paralysis to seek another occupation. He turned to Picture Dealing and eventually became the proprietor of the French Gallery, Pall Mall, which he conducted successfully until shortly before his death in Oct 1890.
Henry Wallis would certainly have had his finger on the art pulse and through his association with the art exhibitions of the day would undoubtedly been fully aware of the work of Thomas Baker and his saleability. Thomas, who was one of the best country scene landscape painters of the time, also seemed to have been acutely aware of the market for his paintings by exhibiting regularly at these exhibitions.”
Thanks Dad. It’s very exciting to get to the nuts and bolts of how a painter actually sold pictures. A national dealer like Henry Wallis would really get Baker’s work out there, and there must be so many works hanging still-unrecognised on walls up and down the country. I’m equally fascinated by the local businessmen who appreciated Baker’s work, and the nuggets of real life you find in the diaries, like this one I love, featuring Mr Burt the Surgeon, a client who buys one painting in 1864 and swaps another for a violin.
On the Newbold-hill 1861 ‘Mr Burt, Surgeon in exchange for a violin 1864’ (c) Birmingham Museums
Or this one from the same decade.
(c) Birmingham Museums
I’d been wondering if Baker’s public was all male, so I was glad to see this entry for one of his last works, Group of four cows 1862, ‘Miss Harriet Attye, in exchange 1863.’
Ingon Grange 1860s (c) Warwickshire County Record Office PH, 331/13
Harriet Attye was one of the four daughters of Robert James Attye of Ingon Grange, Snitterfield, just outside Stratford upon Avon. Harriet Attye (1814 – 1901) had inherited the house from her father in 1862. She may well be one of the women seen here in a photo of Ingon Grange from the same decade, and Baker’s painting may well be inside.