Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Baines 1820 – 1875: artist, explorer and photographer

Born in King's Lynn, Norfolk, the son of a master mariner, Thomas Baines was educated at Horatio Nelson's Classical and Commercial Academy. 

He started his working life in 1836 as an apprentice to an ornamental carriage builder but soon turned to painting and studied under the heraldic painter William Carr. 

In 1842, wishing to see more of the world and inspired by explorer artists like George French Angas and William Cornwallis Harris, he left England on the Olivia, bound for Cape Town.

He arrived at Cape Town on 23.11.42 and worked as an apprentice to a cabinet maker, an ornamental sign-painter, then from 1845 as a portraitist and painter of marine subjects.

 Later Baines based himself in the eastern Cape. Many adventures and explorations were to follow.

He is of particular interest to me because he painted my g g grandfather, Capt William Bell's, schooner Conch arriving at Port Natal in 1842, towing boatloads of troops to raise the siege of the British Regiment at what is now called the Old Fort. Baines was not present in Natal for this event but painted his famous work from a drawing by an eye-witness. It remains one of his most well-known and recognisable works.

Conch 1842 entering Port Natal

He was not only a prolific painter but was an early exponent of the photographic art, many of his works showing him busy capturing images or setting up his equipment.

Later his magnificent paintings of the Victoria Falls would bring him renown. However, he also left a wealth of Natal views including Durban from Mr Currie's Residence - a snapshot in time showing the town in the 1870s.

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