James Jebusa Shannon (1862–1923)
A Portrait of Lady Barber in a Landscape
London, exhibited 1912
Oil on canvas
This portrait shows Hattie, Lady Barber (1869-1933) sitting in the grounds of Culham Court, an 18th-century country house in Oxfordshire where she lived with her husband Henry from 1893. Wearing a white dress and straw hat, and accompanied by two favourite Yorkshire Terriers, Lady Barber is portrayed in the grand manner established by 18th-century masters like Gainsborough and Reynolds. The fluid brushwork is characteristic of Shannon’s flattering painterly technique, which softens the features of the sitter.
Born Martha Constance Hattie Onions, Lady Barber had married the wealthy Birmingham solicitor and property developer (William) Henry Barber in 1893. After her husband’s death in 1927 she implemented their agreement to establish a permanent building to support the arts at the University of Birmingham. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts was founded in December 1932 and, in the absence of an heir, the Barbers’ fortune was bequeathed to the Henry Barber Trust for the purpose of establishing an art collection and funding public concerts. The building was designed by Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) and opened by Queen Mary in July 1939, six year’s after Lady Barber’s death.
Shannon was born in Auburn, New York and moved to London in 1879 at the age of sixteen to train as an artist. He enjoyed a successful career painting figure subjects and society portraits in London in the decades around 1900. Aside from his skill as a portraitist, Shannon’s success is often attributed to the desirable location of his Holland Park Road studio, frequently visited by clients for portrait sittings with the artist.
Sophie Morris, Exhibitions and Collections Intern
To celebrate the Barber Institute’s 80th Birthday our portraiture theme continues upstairs in the main galleries with the exhibition: About Face: European Old Master Paintings from National Collections, 17 May – 1 September.
A free gallery talk will be given in front of this painting on Friday 10 May at 12.30pm. All welcome.