The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

Of course, people visit the town of Bath for the Roman Baths, and for the beautiful buildings of Bath stone. However, the art gallery is also worth visiting, for its small but good collection of 19th Century art.

The most well-known artist from the area was Thomas Barker, known as Thomas Barker of Bath. Growing up in the town in the 1780s, he was a prolific and prestigious painter, the most notable of a dynasty of painters founded by his father Benjamin Barker and painting in Bath for over a century. Lots of Barkers are to be seen in the collection, including representative works by John Joseph Barker (a small Chatterton) and Thomas Jones Barker (his chef d'oeuvre, a dramatic Bride of Death of 1838/9), all working during the 19th Century.

G. F. Watts has a portrait of a girl, called By the Sea, hazily reminiscent of his Ionides Collection portraits. Other good things are A Sinner by the Hon. John Collier, a splendid shore with cliffs and gulls by Briton Riviere entitled The Day after the Storm and an archetypical Francis Danby scene The Sixth Seal with the usual accoutrements of storm, lightning, volcanoes, the dying and the dead etc. etc. An unusual and excellent picture of Stonehenge is by the obscure Richard Tongue.

Also worthy of mention is a cow picture by Sidney Cooper, a large portrait of the artist's son by William Logsdail, an Arcadian Shephard and Flock in a landscape by Matthew Ridley Corbet, and a duller landscape by James Aumonier. John Linnell has a typical landscape with sheep, and from the Newlyn School is a rustic scene by Walter Langley and an excellent study of geese in sunlight by H. H. La Thangue entitled The Watersplash. Genre pictures of lesser worth include Morning Gossip by Haynes King - an indoor group of two girls - and A Truant in Hiding by J. C. Horsley. There are several local scenes by Walter Sickert and later, by John Nash.

Regarding sculpture, there are three marble statues pleasantly arranged in the circular upstairs entrance hall. Two are by Warrington Wood - a suitably religious-looking Rachel holding a lamb, and Jephthah’s Daughter with good flowing drapery of a delicate, transparent nature. The third statue is a rather cold, formal Hebe by Antonio Canova, who had such an influence on many sculptors of the period. Also in the collection are a bust by Brock of Jerome Marsh, the Mayor of Bath who was the first to seriously argue in favour of a municipal museum, and a bust of Harbutt, the inventor of Plasticine, by his pupil E. Whitney Smith. There is model of the Thomas Carlyle statue on Chelsea Embankment, by Boehm. There are also sometimes on show ugly small portrait sculptures in plaster by Gainsborough. Other work includes paintings by Barry and by Greuze (the untypically unsweet Anxiety).

The exterior of the building is interesting. The art gallery entrance includes a statue of Queen Victoria,by the sculptor A. C. Lucchesi, more usually associated with ideal female figures, with above, two seated figures. The gallery forms one part of the larger Municipal Buildings (1893), the whole being by the architect J. M. Brydon, and on the gallery side and round the corner on to the front are good friezes of somewhat classical figures by G. A. Lawson. These are worth study. There are 6 frieze panels altogether, in two groups, each with a further single figure at each end. The deceptively simple composition of standing male and female figures is actually carefully calculated in terms of where the arms and hands and drapery falls, to give sweeping curves and lines binding the figures together. Lots of familiar allegorical figures to be spotted – comedy and tragedy, the arts, music, sciences, and so forth. Good stuff.

The Arts, frieze on the Art Gallery

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Sculpture in central Bath // Bath Abbey // Royal Victoria Park

Victorian art in Britain // Sculpture pages