Biographical sketch of T. O. Barlow

Date Created

c. 1884


Frederick George Stephens (1828-­‐1907), author and editor


F. G. Stephens, Artists at Home, photographed by J. P. Mayall and reproduced in facsimile by photoengraving on copper plates; edited, with biographical notes and descriptions, by Frederick George Stephens (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington; New York: Appleton & Co., 1884), pp. 83-86.


Barlow, Thomas Oldham (1884-1889), English engraver,

Date Issued

August 1884


Something of a prodigy, Barlow attended the Manchester School of Design. He settled in London in 1847 and met a generous patron who agreed to purchase a small painting by John Phillip for Barlow to engrave. In the end, Barlow had to engrave it twice, first in the "line manner" and then, at the publisher's request, in "stipple and line." Although he earned no money from the project, he did receive praise, which led to commissions of reproductive prints after important paintings by other artists, notably J. E. Millais, the most famous being The Huguenot. Barlow organized memorial exhibitions of works by Phillip and by Thomas Creswick for the South Kensington Museum. He was elected an R.A. when Samuel Cousins retired. Mayall's studio portrait shows Barlow with portraits by Millais and engravings of his own.

Is Referenced By

[F. G. Stephens] “Mr. Thomas Oldham Barlow, R.A.” The Athenaeum, no. 3244 (December 28, 1889): 902.
“Some Fine Art Books.” The Graphic, issue 788, Jan. 3, 1885. "Part VI. of 'Artists at Home' (S. Low and Co.), contains the portraits of five very opposite characters—E. J. Poynter, R.A., T. O. Barlow, R.A., Macbeth and Storey, A.R.A.’s, and Mr. Gladstone. The volume fully sustains the promise of the earlier numbers, the photo engravings are excellent, and the letterpress brief and to the point.


The online edition of this work in the public domain, i.e., not protected by copyright, has been produced by the National Gallery of Art.




Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Omeka record contributed by Linda Merrill.

Date Submitted

September 23, 2016

Date Modified

January 15, 2017



THIS accomplished engraver was born at Oldham, in Lancashire, a place with which he has ancestral as well as family associations, and whence one of his names was derived, on the 4th of August, 1824.  While little more than a child he, like most of his fellows whose biographies accompany this one, manifested considerable tact in draughtsmanship and an active general taste for art.  After leaving school at Oldham, his father, hoping much from the boy’s early developed skill in drawing, apprenticed him for six years to Messrs. Stephenson and Royston, well-known engravers of Manchester.  While on this stage of tuition the lad attended the then recently established School of Design in the last-named town, and as a pupil there made such fortunate progress that for a drawing called “Callings from Nature,” which was afterwards exhibited, he gained the first prize.

            After his apprenticeship had come to an end, and because no good opening for an artist of his standing offered itself in Manchester, Barlow determined to try his fortune in London, and before departing looked about for a picture by some well-known painter of which an engraving by his hands would serve at once as an example of his skill and an introduction for himself to those from whom he might seek employment in the metropolis.  This was in 1846.  In the Manchester Exhibition of that year, he saw a picture, the largest dimension of which was nineteen inches, by John Phillip—then still a young man, with a reputation beginning to bud—which, by means of its pleasing subject, bright chiaroscuro, and pathetic expressions, seemed not only an attractive example per se, but peculiarly well suited for engraving in line. It must be remembered that at the period in question all young engravers were expected to show their powers in that fine and severe “line-manner” which tested the draughtsman’s skill to the utmost, and was most in vogue.  The picture is called “Courtship,” and represents two lovers in earnest conversation and contemplation of their happiness.  Phillip, whose fortune was yet to be made, asked but a small price for it.  This small price Barlow, whose means would not permit the venture on his own account, endeavoured to induce a friend in Manchester to pay.  Filing [sic] in this, nothing remained but to go to London, trusting only in such recommendations as {84} he could obtain, but without any capital example of his skill.  Barlow’s first settlement in London was in the spring of 1847, when, for a while, he occupied inexpensive lodgings in Ebury Street, and proceeded in search of employment in many directions, but for some weeks with no success.  At last one of his letters of introduction brought the young engraver to the knowledge of a gentleman whose kindliness took the active form of a promise to pay for any moderately-priced picture which might be obtainable, and was suited for engraving.

            Armed with this promise, Barlow, with a hopeful heart, started off early next morning to the British Institution, the only exhibition which was then open, and eagerly climbed the stairs of the well-known gallery in Pall Mall.  Here, in the North Room, hanging between two minor works of H. B. Chalon and Charles Lucy, was the little picture by John Phillip which he had longed for at Manchester in the preceding year!  Barlow inquired the price.  It was twenty-seven pounds—that is, one hundred and forty shillings more than his general patron had promised to advance.  City-wards he went again, hardly venturing to expect an extension of the limit of kindliness.  His friend readily agreed to add seven pounds to the price, so that, starting once more on the road to fortune, our engraver bent his steps to No. 30, College Street, Camden Town, where, in modest quarters, the future “Don Phillip of Spain” was residing.  The R.A. to be, had, with “A Study of a Scotch Terrier,” made his début in London in 1836, and for some years secured but little reputation.  It is conceivable, therefore, that Barlow’s offer to engrave the little picture of “Courtship,” which hung unsold in the British Institution, was not at all unwelcome to the artist.  Hardly less agreeable was the offer to buy the work at the painter’s price.  The copyright Phillip kindly waived at once in his visitor’s favour, so that the latter, ere he began the plate, had only to wait till “Courtship” was released from the gallery.

            In due time the picture was taken in hand, and, meanwhile, the engraver, being by no means overloaded with money, had to shift as well as he could in the Ebury Street region.  When the plate was far advanced enough for the purpose, he began a wearying search for a publisher or buyer of the prints for sale.  After some trouble this search was so far successful, that a printseller undertook the business, and, by way of encouraging the artist, assured him that because line-engraving was out of date, it would be needful for him to re-execute some portions of the task!  Barlow’s dismay when he was thus instructed, is easily conceived.  Nevertheless he set to work again, and, leaving only some comparatively minor portions—the hands, I believe they are—in “line,” he reproduced his picture in the desired “stipple and line” manner.  When the task was thus twice performed, and the prints were sold, the pecuniary result was, so far as the engraver was concerned, neither more nor less than nothing!   It was hoped that, as the prints became popular, the other parties concerned in bringing them before the world were better paid than my subject.  Among intermediary {85} labours performed at this period were architectural engravings for one of the publications of Mr. James Fergusson.

            Of kudos Mr. Barlow’s share in the profit of his first published work after John Phillip was in every way considerable.  His friendship with the latter prospered from the day of his visit to Camden Town, and was measured only by the lifetime of the painter; so that it endured more than twenty years.  What Thomas Landseer’s graver did for his brother Sir Edwin, Barlow’s did for John Phillip.  Barlow’s first exhibited work was at the gallery of the Society of British Artists, in 1849, and called “The Wanderer.”  His first appearance at the Academy was in 1851, and by means of a drawing of a “Highland Bridge, Kinggussle, Inverness-shire.”  Since this date he has contributed to the late-named gathering about forty works, the most important of which are included in the following list.  After J. Phillip, “The Spanish Gipsy Mother;” “Prayer in Spain;” “Portrait of Augustus Egg. A.R.A.,” “H.R.H. The Prince Consort” (painted for Aberdeen); “The House of Commons in 1860” (during the debate on the French Treaty); “Doña Pepita” (a portrait of Doña de Gayangos); “Seville—Todo es Amor” (“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for ever”); “The Prison Window;” “Prayer;” “La Gloria, a Spanish Wake;” “Dolores;” “Faith;” and “Breakfast in the Highlands.”  John Phillip painted a likeness of Thomas Oldham Barlow while in the act of engraving “The Huguenot” by Mr. Millais, on a plate which is one of the best-known of my subject’s works, and the first of a category of plates after this painter’s better-known pictures.  The other Millais’ Barlow has reproduced include “The First Sermon,” “The Second Sermon,” “Awake,” “Asleep,” “John Fowler, Esq.,” “Sir J. Paget,” “The Duke of Westminster,” “Sir W. S. Bennett,” “Effie Deans,” “A Jersey Lily” (Mrs. Langtry), “Mr. Gladstone,” “The Bride of Lammermoor,” “Mr. J. Bright,” “Alfred (Lord) Tennyson,” “The Stowaway,” “Cardinal Manning,” and "Mr. Irving."

            Barlow reproduced Mr. Henry Wallis’s famous picture called “The Death of Chatterton.”  After Mr. Sant, he engraved “Mother and Child,” and “Her Majesty and Grandchildren;” after Mr. T. W. Topham, “Making Nets;” after Mr. Frith, “Charles Dickens;” after Madame H. Browne, “Sisters of Mercy;” after Sir Godfrey Kneller, “Sir Isaac Newton;” after Sir E. Landseer, “The Little Strollers;” and after D. Maclise, “Mr. E. Quain.”  Barlow has produced many plates in addition to the above, including that of Turner’s “Festival of the Vintage,” one of the capital examples of each artist.

            When a collection of the works of John Phillip was made at South Kensington in 1873, Barlow, who was his friend’s executor, promoted the gathering of the pictures for that occasion, and wrote the catalogue of them.  When the works of Thomas Creswick, R.A., were exhibited at the same place in the same year, Barlow performed similar kind offices for his other deceased friend.  He was elected a Member of the Etching Club, and has for many years acted as Secretary to that body.  By special invitation from the Art- {86} Department he succeeded Mr. E. J. Lane as Director of the Etching Class at South Kensington.  He was elected an Associate Engraver of the Royal Academy in 1873, and an A.R.A. in 1876.  When Mr. S. Cousins became an Honorary Retired Royal Academician, Barlow was elected an R.A. with all the honours.

            In the portrait before the reader the artist is seen in his studio with Mr. Millais’s pictures of Cardinal Manning and Mr. Henry Irving facing us.  Framed on the wall hangs the engraver’s diploma as a Royal Academician.  The above-mentioned portrait of Mr. Gladstone appears over the bookcase; over the mantel-piece is Kneller’s “Sir Isaac Newton,” as engraved by T. Oldham Barlow.

Original Format

Book pages





Frederick George Stephens (1828-­‐1907), author and editor, THOMAS OLDHAM BARLOW, R.A.

Cite As

Frederick George Stephens (1828-­‐1907), author and editor, “THOMAS OLDHAM BARLOW, R.A.,” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed May 26, 2024,

Item Relations

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