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Thomas Barker (1767-1847)
Self Portrait at an Easel
circa 1794
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The artist has painted himself in the very centre of the painting, his body twisted into a pose reminding us of the 'contraposto' - literally meaning 'counterpoise' - often used in Italian art. The artist had just returned from Italy, a fact underlined by the image of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in the painting on his easel.

For much of this and previous periods, many English artists felt insecure of their ability to develop a home-grown style and instead borrowed stylistically from other countries.

Can you think a similar kind of borrowing which happens today? How do we develop our own way of dressing for example?

This self-portrait can therefore be seen as an advertisement of the artist's up-to-date style to clients who might want to commission a portrait of their own.

The viewpoint is slightly lowered, giving the composition a subtle drama. The artist shows himself with the tools of his trade, palette and brushes, and the diagonals of the easel emphasise his pose.

Is his pose contrived or naturalistic?
He looks out confidently at the viewer and the unusual perspective of his right hand acts as a demonstration of his skill and willingness to experiment with new and challenging compositions.
Look at the artist's hair and clothes. What do you think he is saying about himself as an artist or about the wider role of the artist in society?

Thomas Barker (1767-1847), known as 'Barker of Bath', was about to build his own Doric House at this time, just across the road from Sir William Holburne’s house in Cavendish Crescent.

He belonged to a dynasty of painters that began with his father and started his own career, not by making studies from life, but by copying from the grand masters and learning to paint in the French, Italian and Dutch styles.

Thomas Barker,   Self Portrait at an Easel,   circa 1794
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 78.7 x 64.6cm
Holburne Museum: A102
Setting and Symbolism
Types of Painting
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