English painter, etcher and draughtsman. In 1650, following his probable apprenticeship to the portrait painter William Sheppard (fl 1641–60), he was made free of the Painter-Stainers’ Company. He was by then a mature draughtsman, as can be seen by his drawing of David Slaying the Lion (1648; London, BM). In 1652 Edward Benlowe’s poem Theophila: Or Love’s Sacrifice, a Divine Poem was published in London with a frontispiece portrait of the author and a further 11 fine plates by Barlow (drawing for one plate in London, BM; drawing for another in London, V&A). Following Theophila, Barlow produced plates for numerous books, such as Richard Blome’s The Gentleman’s Recreation (1686). He published his own major edition of Aesop’s Fables in London in 1666 (dated 1665); two further editions, one in 1687 with additional plates and one in 1703, were dedicated to William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire. Many drawings for both the original and expanded editions survive (London, BM). Barlow also contributed plates to the revised version (1668) of John Ogilby’s edition of the fables, entitled Aesopic’s. Early in Barlow’s career John Evelyn went to see ‘Barlow the famous Paynter of fowle Beastes & Birds’ (Diary, 16 Feb 1656), but the diarist resisted a later effort by the artist and his fellow-etcher Richard Gaywood (with whom Barlow collaborated for over 15 years) to enlist his patronage. One certain early patron was George Monck (1608–70), 1st Duke of Albemarle, whose portrait Barlow drew for a coarse engraving, and whose elaborate hearse he later designed in 1670.
Barlow’s drawings of animals and birds were frequently taken from life; they demonstrate his highly developed skills in observation and anatomical knowledge. He adapted these drawings for use in etchings or oil paintings, although his originality and freshness of approach as a painter were impaired by his technical and compositional limitations. He worked with a restricted palette and used a dry brush; his compositions tended to be weakly organized and literally crammed with birds or other creatures. These weaknesses are particularly evident in the series of vast canvases (Clandon Park, Surrey, NT) painted for Denzil Onslow at Pyrford, Surrey, but his very English charm and humour are also apparent, particularly in the frieze-like Southern-mouthed Hounds with a Hare (c. 1665). He was the only English decorative artist to be employed at Ham House, Surrey, and his two overdoor paintings of birds (one, the memorable Owl Mocked by Small Birds, the other signed and dated 1673) remain in situ. Individual paintings are not common, but his Two Honey Buzzards about to Attack some Owlets (London, Tate) is a typical example of his work. The only painted portrait by Barlow known is a miniature in oils of Humphrey Dove (London, V&A).
Barlow was the first English sporting artist. He illustrated all forms of country pursuits, including the Last Horse Race Run before Charles the Second (etching, 1687; London, BM). He was also a social and political commentator, producing numerous sets of playing-cards that depict the Rump Parliament, the Popish Plot, the Meal-Tub Plot (all London, BM) and other sensational contemporary events. Although he seems to have produced no further illustrations after 1687 he remained active as a painter. In 1702 he was paid £35 for making copies of paintings by ‘Carlotto’ (?Carlo Dolci) and ‘Guido’ (Guido Reni) for John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol (1665–1751). He is stated by Buckridge to have died poor.
In spite of his versatility and accomplishment, Barlow matured early and developed little throughout his long career. He responded vigorously and sensitively to the English fauna and countryside but he left no direct followers and his influence was limited. Nevertheless, themes he pioneered were to be taken up and developed in the course of the 18th century.
- B. Buckridge: ‘An Essay towards an English School of Painters’, The Art of Painting by R. de Piles (London, 3/?1750), pp. 357–8
- W. Shaw Sparrow: British Sporting Painters from Barlow to Herring (London, 1922), pp. 21–51
- W. Shaw Sparrow: ‘Francis Barlow: His Country Life and Field Sports’, Apollo, 19 (1934), pp. 25–9
- W. Shaw Sparrow: ‘Our Earliest Sporting Artist Francis Barlow, 1626–1704’, Connoisseur, 98 (1936), pp. 36–40
- E. K. Waterhouse: Painting in England, 1530 to 1790 (London, 1953, rev. 4/1978), pp. 118–21, 162, 297
- M. Whinney and O. Millar: English Art, 1625–1714 (Oxford, 1957), pp. 77, 266, 277–80
- E. Croft-Murray and P. Hulton: XVI and XVIII Centuries, i of British Museum Catalogue of British Drawings, (London, 1960), pp. 96–148
- E. Hodnett: Francis Barlow, First Master of English Book Illustration (London, 1978)
- Drawing in England from Hilliard to Hogarth (exh. cat. by L. Stainton and C. White, London, BM, 1987), pp. 141–53