Samuel Henry Baker

Samuel Henry Baker, craftsman and landscape artist know for painting rural scenes in watercolour, was born in 1824.

His father Thomas Baker and grandfather were both employed at Matthew Bolton’s Soho works in Birmingham, and are believed to have held important positions there, possibly acting as managers.

Baker showed artistic promise as a child and was apprenticed to James Chaplin, who worked for Carpenter and Westley, a British company who made optical, mathematical and scientific instruments. From the late 1830s until the late 1860s, Baker worked for the company constructing magic lantern slides.

Using an etching method, copper plates were used to print an outline which was then transferred onto glass, then coloured by an artist who would create a miniature painting. This painting could then be projected onto a screen, and such slides were used for entertainment and educational purposes.

According to Baker’s diary, he mostly created slides with ‘dissolving views’, where two lanterns were placed side by side or on top of each other so that both images would blend into each other. These slides often depicted pre-industrial idylls, which influenced Baker’s later work as a landscape artist.

He was esteemed within his field and acted as a showman of the slides, working with limelight to project the work. He performed shows for his church, the radical nonconformist Church of the Saviour, and in 1869 he performed a Christmas show for the servants of George Dawson, a then minister of the church.

Evidence from Baker’s diary entries reveal that he was considered a highly respectable person in Birmingham, as a member on church committees and associating with H Ryland, the representative of a wealthy and prominent Birmingham family.

Apprenticing his son Harry as a slide maker, this gave Baker the time to teach art, and spend time working on his canvas painting in the country. He attended the School of Design and Society of Artists School, which was split between fine artists and industrialists. Using his experience within both fields, Baker created his unique style, being trained in landscape painting by J P Pettitt.

He later became trustee and treasurer of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA), and member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. By the mid 1870s, the rise in the price of paintings and growing respectability of the Royal Academy meant that artists began to gain high status and be considered gentleman. During this time, Baker earned over £600 a year from painting, establishing himself as part of the wealthy provincial middle class.

However, Baker’s roots in industry benefited him greatly, and he was able to return to engraving during a slump in the art market. His son Oliver Baker (1856-1939) also continued his legacy as a craftsman, acting as a landscape painter, etcher and member of the RBSA. His younger son, Harold (1860-1942), was a noted photographer.

Samuel Henry Baker exhibited over 500 paintings at the RBSA from 1848 to 1909, the year in which he died.