My father Robert Mulraine has been busy with additions to his online catalogue raisonné of the paintings and drawings of Thomas Baker of Leamington (1809–1864).
Baker is one of the Birmingham landscape painters. He studied under Joseph Vincent Barber at the drawing academy at Great Charles Street in Birmingham originally founded by Joseph Barber senior in 1801. Birmingham was an important centre for modern art at this date.Baker’s fellow pupils at Barber’s academy included Thomas Creswick RA, and Birmingham’s leading painter at this date was David Cox, whose work anticipates Impressionism.
There is something new and distinct in the Birmingham painters’ approach to landscape painting. Stephen Wildman suggests that their approach is ‘a quest for the essential.'(1) In Baker’s case this means realism, and realism to a degree that is quite remarkable in a painter at this date. There is poetry in his painting – the poetry of real life – but not rhetoric and sentiment. His compositions seem almost photographically exact and uncontrived and they are still recognisable portraits of place. The Warwickshire he paints, with its narrow lanes of elm and oak, willow streams and redbrick barns still existed when my father was working on a farm there sixty years ago.
Baker is also remarkable in another way. Throughout his career, from 1829 until shortly before his death in 1864 he recorded all but a handful of his oil paintings in his diaries, the Memoranda of pictures painted by me, now in the keeping of Birmingham Museums, who very kindly gave my father permission to publish them. Where possible he has been identifying Baker’s surviving works and pairing them with the 901 numbered entries in the diaries. Baker’s diaries are a unique example of a Claudian liber veritatis in British painting. Baker includes vital information, from a thumbnail of the composition to details of medium, date of execution and a history of exhibition and sale. On November 19th 1837 he wrote this inscription inside the cover of the first diary, which he remained constant to for the rest of his life:
“My Pictures will be generally found numbered at the back, as the description of each is here. Remarks have been added at various times, the destination of each has been inserted as far as I am acquainted with it”.
The number ‘at the back’ is still to be seen on the back of the stretcher or the panel on many of his paintings and helps in identifying his subjects.
This year to date my father has added the following oils to the catalogue. He compiles the catalogue from details of paintings at auction, and with dealers and private owners. The colour images here are from recent sales or with a private collector. The black and white images were kindly provided from the Witt Library. The current ownership of these latter paintings is not known, but one of the exciting things about compiling the catalogue is that at any moment their owner may well be in touch with colour images.
Scene on the River Leam, a mile or so above Leamington, April 24th 1836
Size 19in x 13in
Sent to Manchester with Numbers 55, 78 and 95. July 30th 1836
Returned in December
Sold to Mr. J. White August 1847
Provenance: Brave Fine Art, 21 Enterprise Way Arle Road, Cheltenham GL51 8LZ
Distant view of Warwick in the vicinity of Budbrook, January 1844 (image courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art; all diary images copyright Birmingham Museums Trust.)
Size 13in x 9in
Varnished over Isinglass April 15th 1845
Sold to Mr. Hooper
The Newbold-wood, from the south side of the River [Leam], looking down towards the Town, December 1844 (image courtesy of British Bespoke Auctions)
Size 30in x 20in
Sold to Mr. Hooper £14
Purchased by T. S******* of Manchester from Mr. Hooper
Provenance: British Bespoke Auctions, Sale 2nd February 2023, lot 115, sold hammer £2,400.
Scene on the Usk, near Brecon, February 1850 (image courtesy of British Bespoke Auctions)
(a little Meguilp used)
Mr Josiah Mason
Provenance: British Bespoke Auctions, Sale 2nd February 2023,
Lot 114. Sold £800 hammer.
Distant view of Haddon-hall; an oak from Stoneleigh Park in the foreground, October 1855.
Size 22in x 18in
Painted for Mr. W. Whitehead October 1855
Photo Credit: Private Collection
Landscape painters often blend and rearrange motifs from different sources. Baker’s explanation of it, using an oak tree from Warwickshire in a Derbyshire view takes us ‘under the bonnet’ of a working artist. It is typical of how the diaries describe his method.
Lane scene, between Radford & Offchurch, November 1855 (image courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art)
Size 12in x 9in
Distant view of Warwick, June 1858 (image courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art)
Distant view of Warwick, finished at once.
Size 9 or 10in x 6in
To Mr. W. Whitehead
Hampton Lucy, July 1860 (image courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art)
Scene on the Wye, near Goodrich, July 1860 (image courtesy of the Courtauld Institute of Art)
Size 14in x 8 7/8in
Nest week I will be looking at some watercolours and drawings recently added to the catalogue.
- Stephen Wildman: The Birmingham school: paintings, drawings and prints by Birmingham artists from the permanent collection, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, 1990, p. 6