'The fact is, his heart was literally in the Highlands, for his love of the red deer and the attraction which mountain solitudes and scenes of storm and mist possessed for him was quite phenomenal, and whenever the picture dealers would give him a holiday he sketched these subjects with an absorbing interest and delight, which was, under all the circumstances of the case, quite pathetic.'
The animal and genre painter Charles Burton Barber studied at the RA, and exhibited there from 1866. The quote above is from his brother, and refers to his feeling trapped in painting popular pictures that would sell rather than what he really wanted to paint. With his pictures of dogs, cats, horses and other animals - either portraits, or in genre scenes with animals, he attained great popularity. But his friend and biographer Harry Furniss paints a rather sad picture of him:
'It cannot be truly said that he enjoyed his work. He disliked thinking his subject out, and was quite miserable during its inception. The sight of a new canvas made him ill, and the spectacle of a new frame, which generally means the completion of the picture for which it is made, invariabley upset him. He was not imaginative, he was not prolific, and he was not a 'potboiler'.'
Burton Barber did however become one of the most popular animal painters in his rather short life, and his work may be compared to that of others specialising in animal genre, such as Maud Earl. His style varied from the almost-photographic to the sketchy, and tended to the sentimental, yet unlike many of his contemporaries, he always resisted the temptation to anthropomorphise his animals. His chief patron was Queen Victoria, who commissioned him to make pictorial records of many favoured pets. Barber also made some children's illustrations, such as the Adventures of Pincher, and was besides a photographer and worker in wood.
Many dog portraits by Barber are in the Royal Collection. An example of his pictures of children with dogs is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight.