Growing up in the popular Victorian family seaside resort of Great Yarmouth, England, it might have been happy childhood memories that helped Charles Burton Barber become such a successful Victorian artist of children and pets.
Such was the high regard for his skill, that in 1883 Barber was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters—the only art society dedicated to the Victorian artist specializing in oils.
His particular talent was for sentimental portraits of dogs, which helped win royal commissions from animal-lover Queen Victoria.
Barber succeeded Sir Edwin Landseer as the Queen’s court painter. One of his most renowned works is of Marco—a beautiful Pomeranian she bought on a trip to Florence, Italy, in 1888.
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The next two paintings, “In Disgrace” and “A Special Pleader”, are two of Victorian artist Barber’s most famous works.
You may notice something similar—it’s the same little girl wiping her tears, having been sent to stand in the corner for naughty behavior.
In each painting, Barber captures the special relationship between dogs and humans. The little puppy is sharing her punishment, while the border collie appears to be pleading with her parents to forgive her.
Demand for Barber’s work is reflected in auction prices. In Disgrace fetched $639,964 at Christie’s in 2007, with A Special Pleader having been sold for $442,500 ten years earlier.
Painting animals with human-like expressions was a popular style for the Victorian artist.
Barber knew how to not only convey expressions like excitement, longing, sadness, and protection, but also to render them in a more natural, animal-like way.
The painting “Suspense” shown below was owned by rival soap manufacturers Pears and Lever Brothers. It depicts a beautiful young girl saying grace over breakfast with her pet cat and Jack Russell gazing longingly at the feast before her.