T. O. BARLOW, R.A.
Frank Dudman, J. P. Mayall’s assistant, photographed Thomas Oldham Barlow in his Kensington studio in 1883, probably in early or mid September. The engraver strikes an unlikely pose in the photograph, seated in a tasseled, velvet-upholstered armchair at a simple desk turned to match he angle of the photograph, which captures a single cluttered corner of the room. Barlow rests his head on his right elbow, apparently deep in thought, while his left hand holds the tools of his trade, as though an engraving is in progress: Dudman’s description of the image on the copyright registry reads, “Seated at work, engraving.” To complete the illusion of an artist in the midst of his labors, Dudman arranged the studio contents so that Barlow is pictured in the presence of two completed (but unframed) canvases by his good friend J. E. Millais. On the floor, propped against a smaller framed painting that may be a work by C. R. Leslie, is the celebrated portrait of Henry Irving, which Millais was to present the following year to the Garrick Club (of which he was a member), where it remains today. On a wooden stand wheeled next to Barlow’s table is an imposing portrait of John Henry Newman in his Cardinal’s robes, now in the National Portrait Gallery. Stephens erroneously identifies the sitter of this portrait as Cardinal (Henry Edward) Manning, Archbishop of Westminster from 1865 till 1892, who had in fact been portrayed by another artist in the series, G. F. Watts. It is entirely possible that Barlow’s engravings were actually in progress at the time of the photograph, since his mezzotint engraving after the portrait of Newman was published in 1884, and of Irving in 1885.
Stephens informs the reader that the ornate framed print hanging above Irving’s portrait is Barlow’s Royal Academy engraver’s diploma. A copy of his diploma work, submitted to the Royal Academy upon his election as a member in 1881, upon the retirement of Samuel Cousins (Barlow was only the fourth engraver to have become an RA), also appears in the photograph, hanging on the studio’s rear wall, just behind the portrait of Newman: Barlow’s popular engraving of Millais’s 1879 portrait of W. E. Gladstone. A little lower on the same wall, over the mantelpiece behind the artist, is a much earlier work, the engraver's etching and aquatint after Sir Godfrey Kneller’s 1702 portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, published January 1, 1867.
One detail appears to have escaped Stephens's notice, though it apparently attracted the photographer's attention. Hanging above Barlow's engraving of Sir Isaac Newton, just to the left of the unidentified landscape, is an image of Barlow himself--a photographic portrait by David Wilkie Wynfield from around 1863, published in The Studio: A Collection of Photographic Portraits of Living Artists, taken in the style of the Old Masters, by an Amateur (1864). Barlow's portrait is included in part 5, "After the Flemish Schools," and shows the engraver in the guise of Rembrandt, possibly inspired by the 1640 self-portrait aquired by the National Gallery in 1861. The association is inspired, not only because Barlow bears a physical resemblance to the Dutch artist, but also because of his profession, at a time when Rembrandt's prints were particularly esteemed. Dudman and Mayall frequently include a portrait of the artist in their portraits in Artists at Home, perhaps to compel a comparison. In this case, although the framed albumen print cannot be clearly seen in the photogravure, Barlow assumes the same affected pose in both images, his right hand to his face and his eyes downcast.
Although we glimpse only a corner of the studio, the photograph gives the impression of a spacious room made cozier with wallpaper and oriental rugs, and filled with the artist’s treasures and bric-a-brac, including pieces of East Asian pottery and metalwork resting on shelves above the heavy carved cabinet on one side of the room. The image, however, is dominated by the portraits of Irving and Newman, particularly the latter, which assumes pride of place in the center of the composition while Barlow sits off to one side, looking insubstantial in comparison.
Jeremy Maas proposed that the partly obscured painting is by Leslie: see The Victorian Art World in Photographs (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1984), p. 215, no. 408.