Born to some wealth, Benjamin Barker spent his youth on the family estates where he developed a keen interest in horses which lasted his whole life. His passion extended to horse racing, and after losing a considerable amount of money gambling, he was disowned by his father and had to find a vocation. He decided to become an artist. Barker moved to South Wales, where he supported himself by decorating japanned ware (rather like lacquer) in the factory of Allgood. In 1781 he moved to Bath, popular with artists who preyed upon the rich and fashionable who came to take the spa waters. Unfortunately, Barker found that he could not make sufficient money by painting alone, and had to supplement his earnings by painting coats of arms on carriages and by working in a stable.
Barker was the founder of a dynasty of Bath-based artists. His eldest son, Thomas Barker, born in 1767, was the best known (Barker of Bath), and Benjamin Barker the Younger (b.1776) became a landscape painter. The youngest son, Joseph Barker (b.1782) was also a landscape painter, but died young. The next generation of Barkers also produced painters - Thomas Jones Barker and John Joseph Barker.
Barker's surviving pictures of horses are typical 18th Century work, competent but not inspired. Examples can be seen at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. A riverside landscape, very dark, is in Hove.
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