Francis Barlow at Clandon Park

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Francis Barlow was born around 1626, probably near Manchester. He was this country’s first wildlife painter and a prolific book illustrator and print maker. He’s best remembered for an extraordinary illustrated edition of Aesop’s fables.

Life

Barlow completed an apprenticeship with the Painter-Stainers Company of London in 1650. His training combined cutting-edge techniques such as perspective, shading, and modelling of form, with the traditional craft of sign painting. He learned a great deal about drawing creatures ‘after the life’, usually from preserved specimens.

By 1665, Barlow had established a shop in London called The Golden Eagle, in New Street near ‘Shoo Lane’, close to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Golden Eagle was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but Barlow quickly re-established himself; his three large pictures at Clandon were all made during the decade after the fire.

Work

Barlow’s prints and paintings revealed such accuracy that naturalists and intellectuals took interest. Copybooks allowed his prints to be used in different ways. They were used in schools to teach children about creatures found in the countryside and by craftsmen who needed reference pictures for coats of arms, shop signs and banners.

Barlow was also political. During the Exclusion Crisis, he produced numerous anonymous satirical prints including designs for a pack of playing cards depicting scenes from the Popish Plot and a political emblem glorifying Oliver Cromwell.

Barlow at Clandon

We have six Barlow paintings at Clandon, one of the largest collections in the country, including three huge 9x11ft canvases. All these pictures were acquired by the Whig MP, Denzil Onslow. The large canvases were probably designed as a trio to decorate the great hall at his home, Pyrford Court. Later the pictures were moved to Clandon Park, which replaced Pyrford as the family seat.

The pictures functioned like windows onto the countryside serving as a visual complement to banquets. They would have been seen day after day, designed to be appreciated on many levels and probably decoded over dinner as a form of entertainment.

Two of the large paintings, 'A Decoy' and 'Landscape with Birds and Fishes', were cleaned and restored in 2006. Currently we are trying to raise funds to do the same for the third, 'A Farmyard'.

Further information

This text is based on the guidebook written by Nathan Flis for the 2010 exhibition, Francis Barlow: Painter of Birds and Beasts, curated by Flis and Michael Hunter.