The painter Thomas Barker, known as 'Barker of Bath' was the best-known of a dynasty of painters that commenced with his father, Benjamin Barker. Thomas Barker showed a precocious talent which was noticed by a local coachbuilder and businessman, Charles Spackman, who arranged to provide training for the young artist in return for an interest in his output. The training consisted largely of copying old master paintings, and Barker was forbidden to draw from life - an anti-Pre-Raphaelite, as it were. Spackman launched Barker with an exhibition of his work in 1890, showing paintings in the English, French, Italian and Dutch mannner. Barker gained instant fame. Many of his paintings of this period were closely modelled on the work of Gainsborough, who had lived in Bath in the 1760s and 1770s. In particular, his most popular painting, Woodman in a Storm (1789) was inspired by a Gainsborough painting of a similar subject.
Spackman arranged for Barker to go to Rome in 1790, where he became friends with the sculptor and designer Flaxman and set up a Society of English Art Students. On his return to England in 1793, Barker lived in London for a while before returning to Bath in 1800. In 1803 he married, and commissioned a large Doric-columned house with a 30ft picture gallery to exhibit his works. He maintained a large output of paintings, landscapes in the Italian manner and rustic genre scenes, and also produced collections of lithographs and drawings. However, he never quite recaptured the success of his Woodman. In 1826 he designed a 30ft long fresco The Massacre of the Sciotes (an incident in the Greek War of Independence) to show he could produce epic works, but this did not receive the acclaim he had hoped for.
Barker had four daughters and four painter sons: the landscape and historical painter Thomas Jones Barker (1813-82); the copyist Benjamin Barker (1817-89), John Joseph Barker (1824-1904), who painted landscapes and genre; and Octavius William Barker (b. 1826). This last son completed some of his father's works in the latter's declining years, and later both copied and forged his works, thereby doing his reputation much harm.
Thomas Barker's works can be seen, most appropriately, in the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, as can examples of the work of the other Barkers. Specimens of his work can also be found elsewhere, for example in Bristol and in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. His Woodman in a Storm is in the collection of the Tate Gallery.
Top of page