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The Light Across The Carpet
( Originally Published 1913 )
Yonder hangs-it cost half a crown at Poole ten years ago-an early water-colour drawing by Francis Nicholson of Yorkshire (1753 to z844). His drawings have had their day, maybe, but none the less he was the first to bring the true sunlight effect into his watercolour work, in a way which, till then, it had been thought only painting in oils could do.
Perhaps Claude and Cuyp had best painted the look of sunlight diffused, until Turner took to oils and seemed to paint with sunlight. De Hooge was the best at light indoors, and Rembrandt was incomparable at sunshine striking into brown gloom. Yet there was to be a certain artist, circa the fifties of last century, who, Printing in colour, could, for brilliant and faithful representation of sun-shafts in among diffused daylight, equal them all. I mean George Baxter 1804 to 1867), and I am bold to champion what he did against superfine or supercilious persons who say " Mid-Victorian ! " or " Mechanical! " or " Merely pretty! " or jeer, or sneer, or disdainfully pass on.
The Lit-up Carpet.-Consider one of his prints which is by no means the most renowned, I mean No. 2 in the " Gems of the Great Exhibition " series. You perceive a portion of the Belgian Exhibit ; three pieces of sculpture occupy the foreground-the marble is almost as good as Tadema's-and a large Brussels carpet, gorgeous in colour, hangs at the back. An average painter-certainly an average colour-painter-would have been content to reproduce these rich bits of red and green and marble-white without much relief of light and shade. But across the undulation of that hanging carpet George Baxter made a mimic sun-shaft strike with the most dazzling and, so to speak, " life like " effect. I make bold to say that nowhere, in no oil-painting, water-colour, or pastel, shall you find an effect of brilliant light so vividly imitated as in this.
It is a witness to Baxter's taste, and a proof of the artist in him, that always he must let light, shafts of light, sun-bursts, vivid illuminations into the pictures he produced ; unless the subject or season represented precluded. I might go on to say that nobody has so well represented the pale, almost pale Wedgwood, blue of an autumnal sky, with its feathery white clouds, as Baxter has done in a score of prints at least ; but this is an article on Baxter sun-shafts. And if in many respects he shows the artistic limitations of his particular period, this at least can be said, undisputed by any who, by knowledge of Baxter prints and comparison with others, are qualified to give a verdict, that George Baxter was the most successful Printer of light in pictures that has yet been known.
Other Effects of Light.-" Queen Victoria arriving at the House of Lords to open her first Parliament " is a fine, lit print; down from the left falls a shaft of sunshine which is magically vivid in effect. But a collector is lucky who comes across this Baxter print at all; it is very rare, it is large (26 by 21 1/2 inches, including margin), and in its finest state sells for £60 ; it was published in 1841 at £5.
But even more wonderfully " life-like " and vivid is the effect of the rays of light which fall through the " storied windows " of Westminster Abbey, in the picture of " The Coronation of Queen Victoria." This, published in 1841 for £5, now fetches £60 ; it is large and very rare. Examine the Baxter print called " Short Change," a boy returned from an errand with change which does not satisfy his grandmother, and you will see a play of interior light and of domestic comedy which equal a De Hooge. Cuyp might have painted the light, as Watteau or Lancret the figures, which are seen in the print called " The Reconciliation " ; and so, but for lack of space, I might go on.
Are " Baxters " appreciating in cost ? The best and the rarest are going up weekly; all clean prints on embossed mounts are a good investment. Those which are unsigned or unmounted are not yet in strong demand. Canadian and U.S. buyers are taking up " Baxters " ; I hear that £500 worth went to Canada last year. The " rage " is settling down into a taste. An annual " Baxter Year Book " (published by Sampson Low) is a good guide to prices.