George Baxter, who was trained as a lithographer and engraver, developed a process to produce colour prints from blocks and plates using oil-based inks. His aim was to provide good, inexpensive prints for popular sale, and to imitate oil painting. He was the first printer successfully to use oil-based inks, and was among the first to make colour prints available to ordinary people.
This popular art mirrors the taste and sentiment of the early Victorian period. It provided so many early Victorians with the pictures and illustrated books which adorned their homes.
Our exhibit of Baxter's art portrays the image of the world of Baxter's time. The Early Prints, the Missionary Prints, the Needle-box Prints, the Portraits, the Coronation, and the Exteriors and Landscape prints are all represented.
For more information on Baxter's life and work, and a complete inventory of our Baxter print collection, please visit our Special Collections webpage.
Baxter loved to portray the human features, and he was obviously very talented at doing so. Apart from the many likenesses in his large prints of the Coronation and Opening of Parliament, he produced some forty to fifty single portraits. The first portrait appeared in 1837, that of the Reverend John Williams, and the last in 1858, that of Queen Victoria as Queen of India. In all his varied subjects, he excelled best in portraiture.
|No. 212. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. 1859. Taken from a painting by Winterhalter, the print shows a half-length portrait of Edward VII at the time he obtained his regal majority. He is shown in his new colonel's uniform, having been appointed to a command in the British Army on his birthday in 1858; he is also wearing the Garter ribbon and star given to him as a birthday present on that occasion, and holds in one hand his plumed hat, and in the other his sword-hilt. Under the print, in gold letters, is "Printed by G. Baxter, the Inventor and Patentee of Oil Colour Printing."|
|No. 216. Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, India, etc. 1859. The largest and last of Baxter's portraits. It is usually called "The large 'Queen.'" Her Majesty is shown full length, seated in a state chair, wearing robes of scarlet and ermine. On the table, on a scarlet cushion, is the Crown of India. The foundation of the print is for the most part mezzotint. The colouring is rich and deep as a whole, but in places, especially the foot, floor, and cushion, it has an unfinished appearance. The red cushion at the back of the Queen looks as if it were hand-tinted. Taken from the painting by Jas. Stewart, R.A.; but the two ladies-in-waiting, the Duchess of Sutherland and the Marchioness of Normanby, who appeared in the background in the painting, are not reproduced in the print. It is said the Prince Consort objected to the ladies-in-waiting being also shown, as he believed the Queen should be alone. The print appeared about the time that India was added to the British Crown, and was produced from twelve blocks.|
|No. 219. The "Daughter of the Regiment". 1856. Signed on the right-hand corner, in the ground ,"Published July 19th, 1856, by G. Baxter, Proprietor and Patentee, London," in four lines. Full-length portrait of Jenny Lind in this character. She is marching, hat in hand, at the head of the troops. Jenny Lind retired from the stage in 1849, and went to America for a series of concerts. This character was one of the last she played. Designed from a print of Grisi.|
The Early Prints 1830-1840
In the early period of his career, George Baxter, self-taught, emerged from obscurity, and, through sheer genius and perseverance, created a name for himself in the annals of colour printing. Starting with a mere wood-cut tinted over in water colours, then wood block and oil colours, he went on to use a rudimentary plate, and finally the finished aquatint or engraving as a key-plate. Sometimes he used mezzotint for his foundation, frequently it was aquatint, and occasionally stipple. Every print in this period is a book illustration. In the early prints, the white is separately printed. Very few of his prints during this period were original design; most of them were taken from pictures.
No. 41.The carrier pigeon. 1836-1837.
The Spectator of that day, referring to the illustrations to the Cabinet of Paintings, says: "They have the appearance of highly elaborated miniatures, executed with opaque or body colours, and mounted on tinted paper. They are, in fact, produced wholly by mechanical means, and not by hand; being exquisite specimens of the new art of printing in oil coulours."
|No. 67. Boy throwing stones at ducks. 1836. "In the midst of this pond swam a whole brood of young ducks, headed by the mother; the harmless creatures were quacking away in great glee, and John thought it would be fine fun to make them swim a race, so he pelted them with pebbles' (Tales for Boys, p.86). From a painting by J. Browne.|
Missionary Prints Period 1838-9 to 1846-7
This period contains unequivocally Baxter's finest and most serious work as an artist and colour printer. He was struggling financially at this time, but clearly his talents were at their peak, both with regards to design and colour. With the exception of his book illustrations, his prints were now published in more significant sizes and were all original designs. Financially this was a disastrous period for Baxter, as his method required too much labour to be profitable. Most of the large prints published at this time in colour were issued by subscription only.
Baxter began his affiliation with the missionary societies in 1837. "In the nineteenth century missionary societies were very active and wealthy enough to finance expeditions to all parts of the world. The reports of their activities were eagerly followed and famous missionaries achieved the status and hero worship afforded to film stars today... (T)he societies were able to follow up the interest aroused by the exploits of their famous men with his (Baxter's) coloured prints, which were a novelty since photography was not then in use." (George Baxter and the Baxter Prints p.28)
|No. 99. Miss Aldersey's school at Ningpo. 1847. The first Christian boarding school for women of the "Society for Promoting Female Education in the East." Miss Aldersey, in Chinese costume, is nursing the baby. She had altogether twenty girls. At the head is the teacher, and on each side are Ati and Kit, two girls Miss Aldersey brought from Java. Ningpo was then one of the five commercial ports open to foreigners. Engraved under the print, in the centre, is "Fac-simile of a painting if Miss Aldersey's School at Ningpo. By a Chinese Artist".|
|No. 79. Te Po, a chief of Rarotonga. 1837. Full-length portrait of this nude, tatooed chief. He has a spear in one hand, and a leaf fan in the other. Rarotonga, in the Hervey Islands, was the home of the Rev. John Williams in the South Seas for some years. [See bottom left of Window #4 at exhibit for Rev. Williams' story] This print is unsigned.|
No. 82a. The reception of the Rev. J. Williams,
at Tanna, in the South Seas,
the day before he was massacred.
|No. 82b. The massacre of the Rev. John Williams and Mr. Harris at Erromanga.|
|No. 132. The launch of the Trafalgar. 1842. This ship was the last wooden British man-of-war, and was launched in 1841 by Lady Bridport, Nelson's niece, who used wine for the purpose taken from the Victory after the great sea fight in honour of which the ship was named. This event was a popular subject of interest. Of the five hundred guests who sat down, over one hundred had fought in that battle. The print is full of minute work; it is quite rare. It was, as were most of Baxter's prints at this time, published by subscription, and was described as "A picture in commemoration of, and representing, The Launch of the Trafalgar at Her Majesty's dockyard, Woolwich (at the same time she cast anchor), printed in oil colours, in the highest state of the arts, by G. Baxter Inventor and Patentee..." Probably the print was published on a tinted engraved mount, and with it a letterpress description. This print is unsigned.|
In or about 1848, Baxter's work became smaller, cheaper, and more commercial. His first effort was to make illustrations for needle-boxes -- i.e. small boxes which contained packets of needles. The insides were tinted pink or blue. These were popular in the 1840's and 1850's, and the containing box had on the outside a colour miniature print as did the smaller boxes. They were produced with some ten or twelve designs on one plate, which when printed, could be cut for the boxes as required. This led to the introduction of Baxter's pictorial notepaper which consisted of packets of tinted sheets, each headed by a needle-box print, with a large print on the outside of the packet.
|Holy Family, used as the cover of a containing box for a needle-box set.|
|The Tarantella Set. Ten oblong prints on one sheet. From left to right on top row they are: "(1) Evening in Italy; (2) The Love Letter; (3) View in Madeira; (4) The Surprise; (5) The Storm." On the bottom row: (6) The admonition; (7) Waterfall in the Alps; (8) The Circassian; (9) Chinese Temples; (10) Temples on the Ganges." These are signed: some "Baxter, Patentee"; some "Baxter, Patentee, 11, Northampton Square".|
The pictures in this section "were acclaimed as Baxter's finest achievements, and although perhaps of no great artistic merit are of great historical interest. The accuracy with which the smallest details are portrayed shows the infinite patience which he took in his work and his capacity to exploit in full the advantages of his oil-colour process. Unfortunately the project was a financial disaster. During the four years in which he was employed upon it Baxter neglected his other work; as a consequence he spent every penny in his possession and would not have been able to complete the pictures had his family not come to his aid." (George Baxter and the Baxter Prints, p. 27)
|No. 129. Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria receiving the sacrament at her coronation. 1841. Sketched by Baxter at the ceremony on June 28, 1838, from the gallery occupied by the Foreign Ambassadors in Westminster Abbey. As stated in one of the contemporary journals: "It is emblematic of one of the most impressive moments in the sacred ceremony....All seem to enter into the feeling of solemn responsibility which our beloved Queen has taken upon herself." There are about 200 portraits in this one print. It took Baxter some years to produce. The Queen is seen kneeling at the altar, receiving the Sacrament from the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the right is the coronation chair, on the left the altar, and on all sides distinguished persons in beautiful dresses, jewels, uniforms, and orders. To accompany this print, Baxter issued a key to the identification of the people in the sketch. Engraved under the print, in the plate margin, is the above title and "Dedicated by command to the Royal Family."|
|No. 131. The arrival of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria at the House of Lords to open the first parliament of her reign. 1841.|
Exteriors and Landscapes
The prints in this section are not limited
to any period, nor are they restricted to pure landscapes. Many
prints in this series were taken from pictures by artists of the
day, and probably some were original designs, as we can surmise
from that which Baxter distinctly says in the lettering on them.
Baxter's belief in his art was that it was most suitable to reproduce
the work of a painter in oil. Many of the small landscapes were
for pocket-books and scrap-books. "In order properly to appreciate
many of the small subjects, the immense pains taken, the astounding
distances they cover, and the wealth of elaborate and minute detail
inserted, a lens is essential; the closer they are inspected the
better they become" (George Baxter the Picture Printer,
|No. 319. The Welsh Harper. 1836 "And he uncovered his harp, and played an old Psalm tune, accompanying his harp with his voice in a hymn; and thus he talked and sang till the sun got low" (Social Tales, p.22). This print is one of Baxter's best efforts from wood blocks. The subject is taken from a painting by J. Browne.|
No. 286. Derwent Water, Cumberland. 1849. There is a beautiful view of the lake, and its islands,
on the right; and on the left is a picknicking party.