James Baker Pyne, RBA (1800-1870) Though he seems to have taught himself to paint, James Baker Pyne developed into a significant landscape painter, first as a member of the Bristol School, and then as a spirited follower of J M W Turner.
James Baker Pyne was born in Bristol on 5 December 1800. In accordance with his parents’ wishes, he was articled to an attorney, but abandoned law at the age of 21 to pursue his interest in art. Apparently self-taught, he absorbed the influence of other Bristol painters, especially Francis Danby, whose characteristic dark, poetic tones reappear in Pyne’s early landscapes of the local area.
Pyne’s artistic development was supported by an increasing local interest in the visual arts. The Bristol Institution for the Promotion of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, in Park Street, was founded in 1823, and held inaugural exhibitions of Old Masters and contemporary artists in 1824. The contemporary exhibition – called in some sources the ‘Bristol Gallery of Arts’ – was organised by a number of leading artists, including Edward Villiers Rippingille and Samuel Jackson, the latter taking responsibility for its hanging.
A landmark in the establishment of a Bristol School of Artists, it also provided Pyne with his first opportunity to show his work in public.
By the late 1820s, Pyne was living at 6 Dove Street, Kingsdown, near the centre of Bristol, and supplementing his income by working as a drawing master and, possibly, a picture restorer. In 1827, William James Müller became his apprentice, and had lessons in oil and watercolour, though amicably cancelled his indentures after two years (and never took another teacher). At some point, Müller’s friend, George Arthur Fripp, also took lessons in oils from Pyne.
Though ‘he enjoyed little of the social life of Bristol’s other artists’ (Greenacre 2004, page 643), Pyne briefly shared a studio with Samuel Jackson in 1829, and three years later spent six weeks in France with E V Rippingille.
In 1831, when he first exhibited in Liverpool, Pyne was living at 11 Wellington Place, Stapleton Road, Bristol. Two years later, he gave his address as 33 New Church Street, Edgware Road, Paddington, London, and exhibited for the first time at both the British Institution (until 1844) and the Society of British Artists. Between 1836 and 1841, he also exhibited seven works at the Royal Academy of Arts. During this period, he moved fairly frequently, living at 89 Milton Street, Dorset Square (1836) and 6 Earl’s Court Terrace, Old Brompton (1840), before settling at York Cottage, North End, Walham Green, Fulham, in 1841. This probably coincided with his marriage.
From the 1830s, Pyne’s works showed the influence of J M W Turner, through their use of dramatic effects and increasingly restricted palette, often dominated by pale yellow. The artist passed this influence onto his pupil, James Astbury Hammersley, who would have an important role in the artistic life of Manchester. From 1840, Pyne followed Turner in producing the first of a series of volumes of lithographed illustrations, Windsor and its Surrounding Scenery.
In 1842, Pyne was elected a member of the Society of British Artists, and soon showed exclusively at its gallery in Suffolk Street, off Pall Mall East (206 pictures in all). For some years, he also acted as its Vice-President. Occasionally, he collaborated with other artists, notably William Shayer SBA, who added figures to his landscapes, and Thomas Sidney Cooper RA, who added animals.
In 1846, Pyne travelled through Germany and Switzerland to Italy, in order to gather material to work up into finished pictures. The initial results appeared at the Suffolk Street Galleries in the following year: two views of the Rhine and three of the Italian Lakes. It is perhaps these pictures that prompted the Manchester art dealer, William Agnew, to commission Pyne to paint the English Lake District, between 1848 and 1851, and then to revisit Italy, between 1851 and 1854 (partly in the company of the watercolourist, William Evans of Bristol). His paintings of the Lake District resulted in an exhibition in 1852, and two volumes of lithographs: The English Lake District (1853, published by Agnew, lithographed by W Gauci) and Lake Scenery of England (1859, published by Day & Son, lithographed by Thomas Picken). He also contributed frequently to the Art Journal between 1856 and 1870. Several of his Continental subjects were included in the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in 1857.
By 1855, Pyne had moved from Fulham to Camden Town, living first at 43 Camden Villas and, by 1863, at 203 Camden Road. He died at this last address on 29 July 1870. His sons, James Baker Pyne, a photographer, and Charles Pyne, an artist, survived him.
His studio sale took place at Christie’s on 25 February 1871.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; Manchester Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Art Gallery; and Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The V&A also holds his Picture Memoranda, two manuscript volumes recording the oil paintings that he produced between 1840 and 1868.
Further reading: David Cordingly, ‘Pyne, James Baker (b Bristol, 5 Dec 1800; d London, 29 July 1870)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 25, page 759; Francis Greenacre, ‘Pyne, James Baker (1800-1870)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 45, page 643