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JAMES BAKER PYNE, R.B.A. (1800-1870)

JAMES BAKER PYNE, R.B.A. (1800-1870)


Watercolour heightened with white

33.5 x 55 cm



Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, 29.04.1969, Lot 19;

Private collection, U.K.





James Baker Pyne was born in Bristol, and was at first destined for an altogether different career, one in the law: his parents ensured that he was article to an attorney as a young man; but the young James had already decided to pursue a career as an artist, abandoning his legal training aged 21, and began to teach himself. He swiftly came under the influence of the more prominent members of the ‘Bristol School’, particularly Francis Danby, the most famous of the loosely-knit group. Pyne had begun to paint at an auspicious moment in the local artistic community’s history, with the Bristol Institution for the Promotion of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, in Park Street, founded in 1823, and its inaugural exhibitions of both Old Masters and contemporary artists held the following year. This was Pyne’s first opportunity to exhibit, under the oversight of Samuel Jackson O.W.S., by then the foremost local artist still in the city. 


Pyne supplemented his income as a drawing master and possibly as a paintings restorer in these early years in Bristol, and took on an apprentice in 1827, William James Muller (1812-1845), a man who would go on to his own artistic fame and success before an untimely death at just 33. Another gifted local artist who studied at first under Pyne was George Arthur Fripp, whose work was considerably more indebted to Pyne than his friend Muller’s.  Pyne exhibited next in Liverpool, in 1831, but had moved to London by 1833, exhibiting for the first time at the British Institution (which he continued to do for another 11 years), and the Society of British Artists (of which he would become a member in 1842 and Vice-President afterwards). In 1836, he made his debut at the Royal Academy, and during this time his work was much-influenced by J.M.W. Turner, with its dramatic weather effects and restricted palette dominated by a pale golden-yellow. Like Turner, Pyne also produced a series of lithographed illustrations during this time, titled Windsor and its Surrounding Scenery (1840).


Pyne travelled through Germany, Switzerland and Italy (mainly the Great Lakes region) for the first time in 1846, exhibiting the fruits of this trip at the S.B.A.’s galleries on Suffolk Street the following year. William Agnew, the art dealer, was so impressed Pyne’s works that he commissioned a series of views of the Lake District (1848-1851), followed by another visit to Italy between 1851-1854. During this time, Pyne’s works were frequently reproduced in the Art Journal, and his Lake District views resulted in two lithographed publications which were considered a great success. 



This view is absolutely typical of Pyne’s early depictions of Italy: an atmospheric sunset frames the edge of Lake Maggiore, with a romantic architectural feature, almost a ruin, used as the focal point of the view. Although the colours are vibrant, the effect is not overwhelming and is pared back by the use of thin washes in the clouds and distant hills. 

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