H. S. Marks in his studio.
Henry Stacy Marks originally trained to work in the family business - Marks & Co, Coachmakers, in Langham Place, London. However, he showed little aptitude for commercial work, and was allowed to study art. He went with Philip Calderon to Paris and worked for Picot there, after which he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools. His early career was mixed - selling a few paintings, doing portraits, book-plates, 'any wood drawing that came his way', a term as a drawing professor, and another as a glass painter at the firm that became Clayton & Bell. His reputation was established with the picture The Franciscan Sculptor and his Model (1860) which sold for £300, and commissions for paintings and frescoes followed.
St Francis Preaching to the Birds won Marks his ARA in 1871, and Science is Measurement was his diploma work for his RA in 1878. Many of his early pictures were on Shakespearian themes, but it is for his later pictures of birds that he is best known, many of them arising from work he did at London Zoo for the exhibition Birds in Bond Street (1889) by the Fine Art Society. Other subjects included elderly gentlemen oddly reminiscent of paintings by Hubert von Herkomer, and good genre character studies such as An Odd Volume (1894), showing a book collector absorbed reading in a bookshop, and The Amateur, which depicts a man who, having roughly carved the figure of a parrot in wood, is looking rather too pleased with himself.
Marks's pictures were typically light-hearted rather than weighty, and as Gleeson White correctly predicted in 1909, 'it would not be astonishing if [his pictures] retained the respect of future collectors long after many far more ambitious contemporary works ceased to charm'.
Marks was inclined towards the Pre-Raphaelite school, being attracted by the naturalism and painstaking painting style. He was a friend of John Ruskin, who often went with him to London Zoo, and another close friend was G. D. Leslie RA.
He wrote a two-volume autobiographical Pen and Pencil Sketches published in 1894. He was also responsible for part of the external frieze at the Royal Albert Hall, and murals at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Eaton Hall. As well as the paintings already mentioned, he also painted The Apothecary (1875) and A Select Committee (Walker Art Gallery) as perhaps his best bird picture. A study of penguins is at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the picture Cockatoos, Parrots is in Bournemouth.
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