Original Baxter Print of River & Rocky Hills c. 1850s
An Original Baxter Print of a River Flowing Through Rocky Hills with a Bridge & a Waterfall. It is in good all original condition. The mount has foxing from age. The back has a sticker which is from "King & Haymans in Bournemouth, Dorset, Guaranteed Official Baxter Licensee". It is 4.5 cm x 2.5 cm, the frame is 11 cm x 13.5 cm.
All Baxter's prints are now well over 140 years old. All were printed by hand, a slow and, what must have been, laborious method. The process required expert craftsmanship in the initial carving of the engraving plates and subsequent colour blocks and a perfectionist's eye for detail to ensure all aligned perfectly.
George Baxter was born on the 31st July 1804. His father was a publisher and bookseller based in Lewes, Sussex. Baxter worked in his fatherÆs business and learnt the trade of printing in woodcuts, that is printing images by carving the image into wood, the raised areas taking the ink and printing onto the page. Colour printing had been practised for many years but was quite basic, using only a limited number of colours. Virtually all coloured prints of the period were hand-coloured, a slow and laborious task. In 1827 he married Mary Harrild, daughter of Robert Harrild, a manufacturer of printing machinery. Robert was to assist his new son-in-law many times in his life, both financially and with loans and gifts of equipment.
In 1828 Baxter produced his first
colour print - Butterflies, very few copies exist. His next print, issued in
1834, was a rather primitive frontispiece to a book, Mudie's British Birds. He
practised his art and by 1835, when he applied for his patent, he had made major
Simplistically the patented process meant an initial printing from a steel key plate, which gave the black outline and all the intricate detail and shading, then he would apply up to 20 different blocks made from either wood, copper or zinc - one for each colour he wanted to apply. Each block had to align perfectly. This keyplate made all the difference and gave his images a 'sharpness' never before achieved.
What made Baxter different was that
he was a perfectionist and personally spent many hours, in the early days at
least, engraving his own plates. He would only use the best materials and mixed
all his own oil inks. The paper would be wetted and the key plate was applied
and the ink left to dry. The paper then had to be dampened again, so it expanded
to exactly the same size as when the key plate was used and the first colour was
printed, then again left to dry. This process was repeated until all the colour
blocks were added and then a final gloss finish was applied. As these presses
were all operated by hand this must have been a very painstaking process. It is
amazing to think that it is reputed well over a 100,000 copies of some prints
were issued in this manner.
In the early years most of his work was for book illustrations. Including MudieÆs natural history books, poetry and a number of works for the missionary societies. It was during this period that he realised there was a market for his prints, sold separately from books, as works of art for the masses. His work caught the attention of Prince Albert and he was invited to personally attend and draw the coronation of Queen Victoria. He even attended the christening of the Prince of Wales, which was drawn by Baxter 'on the spot'. Although the watercolour was exhibited at the Royal Academy, a print was never produced.
He illustrated many of the events and scenes of the age and his works were used
to illustrate everything from cheap childrenÆs books to some of the most
elaborate, subscription only, editions of the era. His prints graced the front
of music sheets, boxes of handkerchiefs, playing cards, and many thousands were
used on needle boxes. He received an honourable mention for printing at the
Great Exhibition and later received Gold Medals from the Emperor of Austria in
1852, at the New York Exhibition 1853, The Paris Exhibition 1855 and from the
King of Sweden in 1857.
Between 1834 and 1860 he issued approximately 400 different prints. His aim for perfection made him slow and often late with delivery, his Interior of the Great Exhibition was published the day the exhibition closed! This, together with his lack of business acumen meant he was always in some form of financial difficulty. In 1860 he became insolvent.