The town of Wolverhampton, West Midlands, is justly proud to be a native place of an interesting 18th century artist, Joseph Barney. His two altar pieces, 'The Deposition from the Cross' (1781) and 'The Apparition of Our Lord to St Thomas' (1784), have been preserved in Wolverhampton, well-known, and can be seen today at St John's Church and at St Peter & St Paul's Roman Catholic Church.
Joseph Barney. The Deposition from the Cross. 1781. St. John’s Church, Wolverhampton.
Joseph Barney. The Apparition of Our Lord to St Thomas. 1784. SS Peter & Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, Wolverhampton

Joseph Barney. A Blind Musician. Late 18th C.©WAG.

During Barney's life time, his artistic achievements were respected and praised, at least, locally. In 1798, Stebbing Shaw, mentioning 'The Deposition from the Cross' in his 'History of Staffordshire' called Barney a 'native genius' of Wolverhampton[1].

In the collection of Wolverhampton Art Gallery, there is his charming sentimental pen and ink drawing 'A Blind Musician' which gives some additional idea of quality and versatility of Barney's works.

Unfortunately, a detailed monographic research into his life and work has never been undertaken. Modern historians of the 18th century and museum curators usually come across his name in the references sections of books on Angelica Kauffman, where he routinely is described as a pupil of Antonio Zucchi and Angelica Kauffman, and a 'fruit and flower painter to Prince Regent'.

Fruit and Flower Painter?

Such a description should be challenged because Barney's altar pieces immediately and clearly indicate his ambition to become a historic painter.
Barney's characteristic tag as 'Fruit and Flower painter' appeared in Michael Bryan's 'Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers…', the first edition of which was indeed published during Barney's lifetime. Moreover, the comparison of different Wolverhampton trade directories and other sources[2] helps to identify Joseph Barney-artist as a son of Joseph Barney Senior, a japanner and a partner of japanned ware business of Barney & Ryton between 1780-1802.
Thus we can conclude that indeed he received some initial artistic training in painting fruit and flowers which related to his father's japanned ware business. When in or before 1774 Joseph Barney came to London he received from the Royal Society of Arts 'a Silver Palette for a drawing of flowers' [4]. This award, however, indicates his initial training in his native town but not his established specialization.

In 1883, George Wallis wrote that Barney 'visited the old friends, my relatives, who, as a boy of 13 or 14, I have heard speak of him as coming from London and /…/ of his great ability as flower painter.' [5]

In 1938, a 'flower painting by Barney' was offered to Wolverhampton Art Gallery by George Staveley Hill, but not acquired.[6] It seems that it might have been not the oil painting, but a magnificently painted japanned tray which was described and reproduced in black/white by G Bernard Hughes in 1950, and belonged at that time to Mrs E. Staveley-Hill.[7]

Joseph Barney. Flower Piece which belonged to Mrs E. Staveley-Hill. Present location unknown.

 Flower Piece wrongly attributed to J Barney
 and dated 1840s-1850s. Image: Witt Library.
However, the analysis of the 75 works which he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1784 to 1827, shows that only seven ones dealt with fruit and flowers. From 49 works shown at the British Institution from 1806 to 1839, only fifteen depict these subjects.

The file for Joseph Barney at the Witt Library contains 14 images of his works, all of which, except only one, are figurative. This only flower painting is dated 1840s which obviously contradicts with dates of Barney's life.

A pair of portraits by Joseph Barney of Mr & Mrs Barney of Wolverhampton, the artist's father and mother, were offered for sale in 2003.[8] From the close cap of Mrs Barney and the full-bottomed wig of Mr Barney they can be dated 'early 1770s'.


Joseph Barney. Portraits of Mr and Mrs Barney, parents of the artist. C.1770s. Private collection.

At the same sale, the portrait of James Barney, brother of the artist, appeared.[9] If these portraits are indeed by Joseph Barney, they introduce his early exercises in portraiture. Among his later works there were no less than three other portraits - of Mrs Barney, possibly his wife (1803), of Mr Hicks (1813) and of a Young Lady (1817). All these works demonstrate his strong inclination towards historic and religious painting and experiments with portraiture.

Pupil of Angelica Kauffman?
Published sources keep repeating after Bryan that Barney 'studied under the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795) and Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), exhibiting from their London address in 1777. His early work favoured the same neo-classical style of decorative and historical painting.' [10] This information also should alert the historians: both Zucchi and Kauffman were figirative and decorative artists, did not paint fruit and flowers, and consequently did not train in this genre.

Barney did indeed study with Antonio Zucchi, as in 1777 he exhibited at the Society of Artists from 'at Mr Zucchi's, John Street, Adelphi'. But so far there is no documentary evidence of Barney studying with Angelica Kauffman - as Zucchi and Kauffman never had the same address in London. She lived at 16, Golden Square, closely chaperoned by her father. They started to share the address after their marriage in July 1784, but they left England for the Continent several days later. Of course, living in London and being a part of artistic scene at Antonio Zucchi's house, Barney must have known Angelica Kauffman as a co-founder of the Royal Academy of Art and a highly popular artist, and even been acquainted with her directly, but this does not make him Kauffman's pupil.

The very fact of Barney's association with Zucchi also confirms his development as a historic painter. The Gold Palette was awarded to him in 1781 for historical drawings.[11] Among five Barney's works exhibited at Society of Artists in 1777-1783 from Antonio Zucchi's house in John Street, Adelphi and from Wolverhampton, two paintings - 'Portrait of a Lady in the Character of the Comic Muse' and 'Una, from Spencer's Fairy Queene' - reflect his interest in historic genre, and reveal intellectual and artistic atmosphere of Zucchi's studio: at that time, the Spencer's poem was extremely popular responding to the romantic longings of the generation. The Faerie Queene inspired paintings by Benjamin West and Henry Fuseli. Barney would return to the Spencer's poem later in his life, exhibiting in 1827 'Mercy and the Red Cross Knight entering the Cave'.

On the whole, Barney's spell in London in the 1770s was marked by the Silver and Gold Palettes, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the Society of Artists, mixing with the leading artists of the time. It can be considered as a promising beginning of a successful artistic career.

Back in Wolverhampton. Mechanical paintings for Matthew Boulton

Barney returned to Wolverhampton in about 1779, as in August 1779 he married Jane Whiston Chambers[12] at St John's chapel, Wolverhampton, for which two years later he would paint the altarpiece. In October 1780, their first child was born. It was imperative for him to obtain means to support his new family. Interesting, that despite his initial training and obvuios painting skills, he he did not join his father's japanned business which would bring financial income, but not independent artistic career and reputation.

In 1970, Eric Robinson and Keith R. Thompson, analyzing available information on Matthew Boulton's mysterious mechanical paintings, revealed Barney's collaboration with the Soho factory. business[13], although in their paper Barney remained an under-researched background figure without any mentioning of his own works .

The process of production of the mechanical paintings remains a mystery even today, despite the efforts of several generations of the researchers. It seems that with the help of some mechanical device, the image of original painting was printed on primed paper or canvas and then finished manually.

It was this last stage of the production where the professional artists were involved. Barney started to collaborate with Soho no later than in November 1779[14].

The nature of work and the payment were obviously lower than his artistic ambitions and abilities, and appeared very disappointing financially. It seems that on the early stage of the enterprise he had to correct and finish mechanical paintings after unskilled apprentices.

Original for a mechanical painting finished by Joseph Barney: Benjamin West. Erasistratus the Physician Discovers the Love of Antiochus for Stratonice. 1772. ©Birmingham Museum of Art, USA.

Original for a mechanical painting finished by Joseph Barney: Angelica Kauffman. Telemachus on His Return to His Mother.1770-1780. ©Mead Art Museum, USA.
James Keir wrote: 'Mr Barney, not having any work for sale, proposes to begin some painting for your own account, which he says you ordered him to do. I desired him to let me know the prices of the several pictures you spoke of. /…/ The prices /…/ are lower than any he has hitherto done. We acquainted him that the business was not such as could afford his prices, and therefore he must not depend altogether on Soho for employment. He consented to work by day to retouch the boys' pictures, at 10/6 per day.' [15]

The prospect 'to retouch boys' pictures' was hardly satisfactory. Indeed, his 1781-1782 correspondence with the Soho employee John Hodges and Francis Eginton shows that this retouching took rather short time. Barney's further involvement on the process and his associations with fellow artists, particularly with Benjamin West, would be much more active, creative and multifaceted.[16]

Also, it is worth noticing, that along with Joseph Barney, at least two other artists worked on mechanical paintings. Each of them had some specialization, and Barney's one emerges as figurative historic compositions. From several contemporary inventories of mechanical paintings[17] and contemporary correspondence the following mechanical pictures can be identified as finished by Joseph Barney:
'Hebe' (Portrait of Miss Meyer as Hebe), after Sir Joshua Reynolds;
'The Physician Erasistratus discovering the love of Antiochus for Stratonice' and 'The Death of General Wolfe', after Benjamin West;
'The Forge', after Joseph Wright of Derby; 'The Wise Men's Offering', after Antonio Zucchi; 'Penelope weeping over the Bow of Ulysses'; 'Calypso mourning the departure of Ulysses'; 'Cupid bound by the Graces' ; 'Cupid Struggling with the Graces'; 'The Graces Dancing', 'Faith', 'Hope', and 'Charity', 'St Catherine' (possibly 'Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria'), 'Telemachus at the Court of Sparta'; 'Telemachus on His Return to His Mother'; 'Rinaldo and Armida'; 'Time and Cupid', 'Imbaca discovering herself to Trenmore', all after Angelica Kauffman.

Original for a mechanical painting finished by Joseph Barney: A Kauffman. Trenmore and Imbaca, from ‘Ossian’.1773.
© Private collection.
It is probably from his finishing of mechanical paintings the conclusion emerged about Barney being a pupil of Angelica Kauffman. But it is worth mentioning that in the correspondence between Barney and Soho factory the names of Kauffman's characters 'Trenmore' and 'Imbaca' are constantly misspelled. This fact indicates Barney's unfamiliarity with James Macpherson's 'Ossian', and also raises additional doubts in his close contact with Angelica Kauffman in 1770s, as she painted her painting when Barney was supposedly her pupil, and if so, he should have been familiar with it.

  Original for a mechanical painting finished by J. Barney:
  Benjamin West. The Cave of Despair, 1776.
  ©Yale Center for British Art. Paul Mellon Collection.
In Barney's correspondence there are references to a few additional paintings which were not mentioned in either Inventory: 'The Cave of Despair' and 'Daniel Interpreting the Writing on the Wall' after Benjamin West, 'Patience' and 'Perseverance' after Angelica Kauffman, the 'Good Shepard' (the artist not mentioned), two circular paintings 'Cupid Triumphant' and 'Graces breaking Cupid's bow' (also after Angelica Kauffman), and four bas-reliefs with unidentified subjects.[19]

The work on mechanical paintings was a slow and difficult process. Working on Matthew Boulton's personal order, Barney did not succeed with 'Antiochus and Stratonice' and wrote on the 17th May 1781: 'I am sorry I have not succeeded in my endeavours to please Mr Boulton on the last picture. /…/ I certainly shall feel sensibly the having such picture as Stratonice returned upon my hands but if Mr Boulton chooses to send me over the printed impression I will make as good a picture of it as I probably can. /…/' [20]

Original for a mechanical painting finished by J Barney Benjamin West. Daniel Interpreting Scriptures on the Wall. 1775. ©Berkshire Museum, Pittsburg, MA.
When a month later it still was not good, Barney wrote on 29th of June: 'I should take it as a favour if you will please to forward one of the pictures of Stratonice which I am to paint for Mr Boulton as I purpose being in London in about a fortnight[21] and taking the picture in order to finish it from the original at Mr West's.' [22]

All paintings associated with Joseph Barney from the Soho period, be it mechanical or original, are figurative. His fondness of Benjamin West's works is particularly evident. Many of them, along with large-scale paintings by Angelica Kauffman, are complex many-figures compositions. Touching and painting their mechanically reproduced copies invariably employed the close observation of their technique, colours, and artist's style and manner. However slave-like and ungrateful Barney's work was, it provided a great deal of training and artistic practice. Barney's abilities in figurative painting were appreciated at Soho. At least three other artists were employed for finishing mechanical paintings - Mr Richard Wilson, Mr Simmons, and Mr Parsons - but Joseph Barney was considered the best by his Soho employers. When in 1780 an impatient customer wanted to purchase mechanical paintings which were not in the sale room, and did not want to wait, he was offered mechanical paintings which were in the possession of Matthew Boulton himself on the understanding that they can be easily substituted by a skilful artist and even be of a better quality.

Hodges wrote to Matthew Boulton: 'R Barwell, Esq. of Ormond Street, London, visited Soho and ordered upwards of £85 worth of pictures. He chose them chiefly from those at your house, and as he wanted them sooner than in was possible to get them up, (by Mrs Boulton permission) we purpose taking two pieces out of your room, ie the Physician Erasistratus and the large Good Sheperd, which pieces I learn may be substituted by Mr Barney better than those…' [23] In 1781, Isaac Hawkins Browne (1745-1818), refurbishing his home at Badger Hall, desired to decorate it with mechanical paintings. Boulton and Fothergill, however, were ceasing the production, but they referred him to Barney, obviously giving him the best recommendations. Expressing his disappointment, Browne wrote back: 'I am obliged to you for your recommendation of Mr Barney. I shall certainly pay attention to his extraordinary merit.'  [24]

Who bought mechanical paintings finished by Joseph Barney?

Modern researchers have noticed that Josiah Wedgwood, surprisingly, used very few of Angelica Kauffman's works in his classical designs for jasper ware. But at least he did acquire mechanical paintings after Kauffman's designs: Barney's Graces breaking Cupid's bow and Cupid struggling to recover his arrows were made for Josiah Wedgwood.[25] Along with Wedgwood and Boulton, Barney's other customers were Mrs Elizabeth Montague (1720-1800), Sir Sampson Gideon (1744-1824)[26], and, possibly, Beilby Porteus, the Bishop of Chester and a well-known abolitionist (1731 - 1809)[27], Lord Macclesfield[28] and Isaac Hawkins Browne, if he followed Boulton's recommendation.[29]

Joseph Barney's own paintings

Working for Soho, he at the same time painted his 'Deposition from the Cross' for St John's church, Wolverhampton. Hundred years later, referring to the account of the painter and engraver John Whessel (1760-1824) who had lived in Wolverhampton in the 1780s and known Barney, James P. Jones wrote that Barney had painted each figure from life, and while having difficulties with the image of Joseph of Arimathea, he 'saw a very indigent man on the street, whose face just met his idea. He invited him to his studio and sketched him onto canvas.' [30] In some indirect way, this again confirms Barney's familiarity with portrait painting. One of his letters to Soho reveals a touching detail of this work: 'I write this in bed having had the misfortune to fall as I was painting at the Altar piece by which I have totally lamed myself for some weeks…' [31]

In 1784, Barney still was in the Midlands, painting his second altar piece, 'The Apparition of Our Lord to St Thomas' for St Peter & St Paul's Roman Catholic church, and exhibiting at the Royal Academy from Summer Hill, Birmingham.

It also seems that he painted other, his own, pictures, and possibly was allowed to sell them from the Soho showroom. On 12th June 1781 he wrote to Soho: 'Please to let the large picture stand in the Toy Room until I see you. There is a large picture of mine in the Toy Room where I used to paint. It is a big picture of Eneas.'  [32] There is no record of any mechanical painting with a subject from the Virgil's 'Aeneid' in the Soho Inventories, thus it is possible that it was Barney's original painting. In May 1782, when the production of mechanical paintings at Soho ceased, and Barney's collaboration with Soho ended, he wrote: 'I have sent two pictures by the bearer viz: Time and Cupid and Cupid bound to a tree. I have likewise sent every thing I had in possession belonging to Soho. /…/ If you have any other command please to send them by the bearer to whom I should be glad you will deliver my picture of the Forge.' [33] Although one of mechanical pictures represented 'The Forge' after Wright of Derby, it is possible to suppose that in this particular case he also mentioned an original painting by himself which may or may not have been inspired by Wright of Derby.

Joseph Barney's japanned ware

Considering rather inadequate payment offered by Soho, it is clear that Barney desperately needed another source of income, and it is very likely that he decorated his father's japanned ware, although not formally joining the business. In 1883, George Wallis wrote: 'Joseph Barney /…/ painted trays for a japanning concern in the town of which his father was proprietor.' [34]

Japanned tray ‘Jerusalem Hath Sinned’. J Sankey & Co. Bilston, mid-19th C.
Unfortunately, japanned ware are mainly anonymous, thus their identification and attribution is very difficult and often muddled:

In 1950, Bernard Hughes confidently attributed to Barney a magnificent round japanned tray painted with a 'scriptural' scene, which at that point the author had seen in the collection of Wolverhampton Art Gallery.[35]

In 1964, reproducing this tray in their book 'English Decorated Trays', John and Jacqueline Simcox named the scene 'Jerusalem Hath Sinned', and repeated the attribution to Joseph Barney and to the firm of Bevins & Barney.[36] But at the same time, they dated the object 'c.1835-1845' which contradicts with the artist's life dates.

In fact, this tray had been loaned to the Gallery by Mrs G.Sankey- the fact which immediately challenges the attribution to the Bevins & Barney business.

On the lists of material on loan for the insurance purposes, which were compiled by the Gallery in 1974 and 1977, it has the same attribution to Joseph Barney, but the obvious discrepancy in dates was corrected to 'early 19th century'. [37]

In 1982, in the Catalogue of Georgian and Victorian Japanned Ware published by Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the name of the painter disappeared, and the tray was described as made by J. Sankey & Co, Bilston in the mid-19th century[38]. The tray does not bear any stamp of Sankey & Co. The original source of its decoration was not established. It might have been an engraving by John Rogers (c.1808-1888) which is dated 'c.1860'.[39]

John Rogers (c.1808-1888). ‘Jerusalem Hath Sinned’. 1860s.

Japanned tray ‘Finding of Moses’. Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd, Bilston, mid-19th C.
WD John and Jacqueline Simcox also ascribed to Joseph Barney a large tray painted with the 'Finding of Moses'. This tray is well known in Wolverhampton.

Its origin at Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd, Bilston has been firmly established, although its date is doubtful. According to Wolverhampton local information, it was made for the Great Exhibition of 1851. But in fact, Joseph Sankey was born in 1827 and started his business in the middle of the 1850s, several years after the Great Exhibition.

Thus if the origin and dates of both trays are correct, they cannot be attributed to Joseph Barney[40]. In fact, with the absence of documentary evidence any attribution is highly speculative.

Barney's correspondence with Soho confirms that he often borrowed prints and engravings from Matthew Boulton's house, particularly those after Benjamin West and Angelica Kauffman, for working on mechanical paintings, but also probably for decorating the japanned ware. In June 1781, he wrote: 'General Wolfe and Daniel Interpreting the Writing on the Wall belong to Mr Boulton. /…/ Mr Boulton has a print of the Cave of Despair which I hope he will lend me for a short time' [41] George Wallis remarked: 'I have myself seen trays attributed to Angelica Kauffman, being from the subjects which I had no doubts were really painted by Barney.' [42]
In Wolverhampton context, Barney's work on a large mechanical painting after 'The Death of General Wolfe' by Benjamin West[43] is of particular interest - in 1972, Wolverhampton Art Gallery acquired a japanned tin serving tray painted with this scene.[44]  John and Jaqueline Simcox reproduced a similar tin tray from an American private collection, painted with the same subject but of a different shape, and dated it 'c.1800.' [45]

Wolverhampton tray was described in 1982 Catalogue as 'English or Welsh' and dated 'c.1795', which was probably based on J and J Simcox' book.[46]

Japanned tray painted with ‘Death of General Wolfe’ after B. West.© WAG.
Considering the presence of the engraving and the mechanical impression of the West's painting at Barney's home in 1781, it is possible to date these tin trays 'c.1780s', and if not to attribute to, but at least to associate it with Joseph Barney himself, or with Barney & Ryton (although again all attributions remain highly speculative).
In July 1800, Barney paid a brief visit to the Midlands, and called at Soho to borrow a picture on which he had worked long ago: Sir, it is so long since I had the pleasure at assisting you that I may probably be erased from your recollection, indeed it is necessary to apologise for troubling you on the present occasion which is to request that you will have the goodness to lend me the small picture of the Good Shepard in order that I may make a sketch from it whilst I remain in this part of the country. Your consent signified in any way you think proper to Mr Eginton will greatly oblige.[47]  This desire to borrow a picture also can be understood as a need to have some original for a decoration of a japanned tray. However, it is hardly possible to confidently attribute any unsigned japanned object to Joseph Barney without any firm documentary evidence.

At the cross-roads

The production of mechanical paintings was a rather short-lived enterprise. In May 1782, Barney's collaboration with Soho ended, and finding another position which would satisfy his goals and ambitions appeared not easy. Between 1786 and 1793, we see him in London, at 29, Tottenham Street, actively exhibiting figurative and historic paintings at the Royal Academy. The London Book Trade names him as an engraver and print-seller.[48] His 'Scene in the 'Tempest'' exhibited in 1788 might indicate his ambition to join the Boydell's Shakespeare Project in which his friends Benjamin West and Angelica Kauffman participated.

Drawing Master

In October 1793 Barney took the post of the Second Drawing Master for Figures at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (which again contradicts with his characteristic as 'fruit and flower' painter) and moved to Greenwich. There he remained until 1820.[49]

Joseph Barney after F.Wheatley. Fisherman’s Return. 1793.
The role of Drawing Master for Figures obviously influenced Barney's later subjects, increasingly sentimental, of lesser artistic quality then his earlier works, but still figurative, not 'fruit and flowers'. They reveal his close collaboration with Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), Charles Turner (1774-1857), William Hamilton (1751-1801), Thomas Gaugain (1756-1812).
In July 1811, the 'Wolverhampton Chronicle' proudly announced that 'Mr Joseph Barney, Professor of Figure and Perspective Drawing to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, is appointed Painter in Flowers and Fruit to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Mr Barney is a native of this town and it gives as a pleasure to learn that His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, whose taste for the Fine Art is so universally acknowledged, has honoured him with so distinguished mark of his appreciation.' [50]
This title confirmed his artistic efforts, but hardly recognised his lifelong artistic ambitions: even as 'Painter on Flowers and Fruit' he did not increase a number of exhibited still-life pieces and continued presenting himself as a historical artist, exhibiting his early works - the 'Lame Man healed by St Peter and St John' was exhibited in 1786, 1802, and 1814; the 'Manoah Sacrifice' - in 1798, 1819, and 1820. 'Belisarius' was shown five times: in 1784, 1806, 1809, 1821, and 1822.

The titles of some other exhibited artworks correspond with paintings by Antonio Zucchi and Benjamin West, with which he worked producing mechanical paintings: the 'Wise Men's Offering' was shown in 1818 and 1820, the 'Daniel Explaining to Belshazzar the Writing on the Wall' - in 1824 and 1827. The title of the painting exhibited in 1822 at the Royal Academy, 'The Graces Adorning the Bust of Princess Charlotte', suspiciously reminds about Angelica Kauffman's 1770s works.

It is impossible to believe that Barney exhibited some surplus of mechanical paintings as his own original works, thus these were probably versions, or inspired by the same subjects.

Thomas Gaugain after Joseph Barney.  The Show Man (La Pièce Curieuse). 1802.

Joseph Barney. The Thatcher. 1802.

G. B. Hughes wrote in 1950 that towards the end of his life, Barney had returned to Wolverhampton, and painted japanned trays for his brother, partner in Bevan & Barney.

This information has not been confirmed by other sources: Graves' Dictionaries show that even having retired from the Woolwich Military Academy, Barney continued exhibiting from London addresses, although indeed he often visited his relatives in Wolverhampton.

The family

The current entry for Joseph Barney in the DNB does not provide full information about his family. Wolverhampton sources mention the daughter Jane Whiston, born in October 1780.[51] A son Joseph, the future artist, was born in April 1783.[52] He started to exhibit in 1817 from his father's address in Greenwich; in 1818 he moved to 17, Great Smith Street, Westminster, and finally to Southampton, from where he exhibited until 1842.

He was a drawing teacher[53], exclusively a fruit and flower artist, and in the late 1830s became a Fruit and Flower Painter to Queen Victoria. Another Barney's son was a promising printmaker and publisher William Whiston Barney, a pupil of S.W.Reynolds.

He, however, abandoned his artistic career, joined the army, and distinguished himself in the Peninsular War[54]. According to Australian sources, a third son, George (1792-1862) born in Wolverhampton[55], became a soldier and military engineer who also served in the Peninsular War and in the West Indies, and later took a significant place in the history of Australia[56]. In May 1793, a daughter Sophia was born in Greenwich[57], in 1796 - a son John Edward[58], and in 1799 - a daughter Ellen[59].

The fact that in the family there were three artists with the same name - Joseph Barney Senior (Wolverhampton Japanner), Joseph Barney Junior (artist and pupil of Zucchi) and Joseph Barney- Fruit and Flower Painter to Queen Victoria - who worked in similar style, definitely caused confusion between them.

In 1997, Keith Jobst, an Australian and a distant descendant of Joseph Barney, published in Brisbane a book 'The Barneys'. 1835-1865'. It is mainly dedicated to Barney's children and grandchildren, but the first chapter gives an overview of the artist's life and work. Unfortunately it is mainly based on already known sources. On 25th March 2004, the Wolverhampton newspaper 'The Black Country Bugle' published a large article 'The Wolverhampton Painter of the Black Country's own 'Passion of the Christ' - and his Illustrious Ancestors'[60]. The author in a rather unfortunate way tried to establish links between Joseph Barney and Mel Gibson's film 'Passions of Christ' which was released at that time. The article is partly based on already known sources, including Keith Jobst's book, but at the same time it ignores important facets of Barney's life and work. The absence of references makes the article unreliable.

The conclusion: artistic legacy

The conclusion is that, unfortunately, Joseph Barney did not manage to fulfil his artistic ambitions and establish himself as a historic painter. His name is associated today with short-lived enterprise of mechanical paintings, obscure 'fruit and flowers', and cheap sentimental colour prints, if not practically forgotten. The location of his large-scale historic and religious paintings is unknown. Maybe this is the time to start looking for his artistic legacy, and to remind about respect which his contemporaries paid to him. Reporting Barney's death in April 1832, The Staffordshire Advertiser wrote: 'On the 13th inst., at his house, Stanhope-Terrace, Regent's Park, London, Joseph Barney, Esq. [died], aged 77. He was an eminent painter, and for more than 30 years drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. The altar pieces at St John's Church and at the Catholic Chapel, in Wolverhampton, of which he was native, formed lasting monuments of his skill as an artist.' [61]


[1] Shaw, Stebbing. History of Staffordshire. Vol.2, part.1. 1798. P.164.
Late 18th century trade directories of Wolverhampton and Staffordshire record the presence in Wolverhampton of several entrepreneurs named Barney, who may or may not be members of the same family:
In 1770, three businesses of Barneys were recorded in Wolverhampton:
1. Joseph Barney, corn factor and mealman. He lived in Lichfield Street in 1767-84. 
2. Benjamin Barney, smooth file maker, was in Stafford Street.
3. Barney & Ryton, japanners, coffin plate chasers and merchants, also were situated in Stafford Street.
In 1780, several additional businesses were recorded:
4. James Barney, ironmonger and locksmith, in Dudley Street;
5. Mrs Barney,  a milliner, in Church Yard;
6.  Joseph Barney, ‘unqualified painter’, who had his lodgings in Horse Fair between 1780 and 1782.[1]
The 1783 Directory mentions only Barney & Ryton, japanners, in Stafford Street, and Joseph Barney, a corn factor. In 1792, Benjamin Barney, a file maker, still continued his business. Joseph Barney-japanner moved to the Queen Street. In 48, Dudley Street appeared inn keepers Elizabeth Barney, widow, and Eleanor Barney. At 50, Horse Fair, John Barney, jeweller, has been recorded. In 1802, Joseph Barney in 5, Queen Street was listed among tinplate workers (makers of blank trays). Barney & Bevins continued their japanned ware business in Goat Street.

An additional document is preserved in Birmingham Diocesan Archives: Indenture of a lease of a dwelling house in Stafford Street by Joseph Barney, Japanner, from Benjamin Barney, file maker, for one year, signed on 6th January 1788. It helps to identify Joseph Barney Senior, the father of the artist, as a japanner in Stafford Street and a partner of Barney & Ryton between 1780-1802. The ‘unqualified painter’ who lodged in 1780-82 in Horse Fair is his son, the artist Joseph Barney Junior. The fact that at his native town he was at that time considered ‘junior’ is confirmed by documents related to the commission of the painting for St John’s: ‘to article with Mr Jos.Barney Jun’r to paint and complete’ the altarpiece’. Local documents help to recognise James Barney-ironmonger as a brother of the artist. He seems to abandon his ironmonging trade and became a keeper of the ‘Castle Inn’. Thus he does not seem to have had artistic training. He died between 1785-1792, thus his business was continued by his widow and daughter, and finally sold in 1811. Barney the partner of Bevins in 1802 may indeed be another brother of Joseph Barney Junior (as mentioned in Cleevely’s entry for DNB, 2008), but his given name was not found in the local historic listings.

[3] The date of Joseph Barney’s birth has not been established for sure, as the baptism records of Wolverhampton St Peter’s church do not contain the record for Joseph Barney. R. J. Cleevely, the compiler of the current (2004-2008) extensive entry for Barney in DNB provides the date of his birth as 4th March 1753, but without reference to the source of this information. This nevertheless seems plausible, as the marriage of his parents, Joseph Barney (Senior) and Eleanor Denham, was recorded at Wolverhampton St Peter’s church on the 30th November 1751.
[4] Wood, Henry Trueman. A History of the Royal Society of Arts.  1913. P.164
[5] Wolverhampton Local Archives, DX-174/7.
[6] Wolverhampton Public Library and Art Gallery Minutes Book 6. CMB/WOL/AGPL/5.
[7] Hughes, G Bernard. Wolverhampton Decorated Trays. In: Staffordshire Life and County Pictorial. 1950, Vol.3, No5.
[8] 2003, Lot 507.Last access 16.03.2009.
[9] 2003. Lot 508. Last access 16.03.2009.
[10] R. J. Cleevely, ‘Barney, Joseph (1753–1829?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.  Last access  5 April 2009.
[11] Ibid.
[12] In Keith  Jobst’s book ‘The Barneys. 1835-1865. Brisbane, 1997’she is called ‘nee Chandler’. P.86 ea.
[13] Eric Robinson and Keith R. Thompson. Matthew Boulton's Mechanical Paintings. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 112, No. 809, pp. 497-507.
[14] Joseph Barney ‘consented to work by the day to retouch the boys’ pictures, at 10/6 a day. If the painting business is to be carried on, and the boys continue to paint, certainly the value of the pictures will be enhanced more that the expense of his wages.’ J Keir to MB. 2.12.1779. MS3782/12/65/43.
[15] MS3782/12/65/43. Keir to MB. 2.12.1779.
[16] In 1970 at Birmingham Assay Office; now Birmingham City Archives, MS3782/1/31/1-16.
[17] MS3782/1/30. B & F to Clarke & Green, 10.07.1781. Letter book  1777-1782. B&F to Baron de Watteville de Nidan, 23.12.1780; The Mint Inventory 1809.
[18] According to published information, a painting by Angelica Kauffman has been preserved at Browsholme Hall, Lancashire ( It is worth checking whether this is a mechanical painting.
[19] Last access 16.03.2009.
[21] Barney’s trip to London may have been related to his Golden Palette awarded by the Society of Arts, but its timing also suspiciously coincides with the wedding of Antonio Zucchi and Angelica Kauffman which took place on the 14th July 1781, thus he might have attended the event.
[22] MS3782/1/32/1-16
[23] MS3782/12/63/19. 31st  October 1780.
[24] MS3782/12/27. 8th  September 1781.
[25]MS3782/1/32/1-16. 8th  January 1782. Bill.
[26] MS3782/12/63/12. 17th April 1780.
[27] MS3782/1/30. July 1781: ‘…Penelope and Calypso… to be sent to his Lordship House in Great George Street, Westminster.’
[28] MS3782/12/63/13. 1st May 1780: ‘The Calypso you ordered for Lord Macclesfield was sent the 27th ultimo to care of Mr Stuart…’
[29] Badger Hall was demolished in 1952, and its ceiling paintings were installed in the house of Buscot Park, Berkshire. While their classical manner is indeed in the manner of Angelica Kauffman, their subjects differ from these which were mechanically reproduced at Soho in the 1780s, and which were finished by Joseph Barney. Also, there is no evidence of their ‘mechanical’ nature.
[30]Wolverhampton Local Archives, DX-174/7.
[31] MS3782/1/32/1-16. 15th May 1781.
[32] MS3782/1/32/1-16. 12th  June 1781.
[33] MS3782/1/32/1-16.  May 1782.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Hughes, G Bernard. Wolverhampton Decorated Trays. In: Staffordshire Life and County Pictorial. 1950, Vol.3, No6.
[36]W D John and  Jacqueline Simcox. English Decorated Trays (1550-1850). The Ceramic Book Company, Newport, England, 1964. P.116-117.
[37] Materials on donors.  File ‘Sir Edward Thompson’. Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
[38]Jones, Yvonne. ‘Georgian and Victorian Japanned Wares of the Midlands. Catalogue of the permanent collection and a temporary exhibition.’ 1982. P.85.
[39] Last access 18.07.2009.
[40] The catalogue of Wolverhampton Local Archives provides the information that it was painted by John Barney, a Bilston artist employed at the J Sankey & Co. The name John might be a writing error, but if so, there is still a discrepancy between the supposed date of the tray and dates of Joseph Barney’s life, and there is no evidence of him being employed by J Sankey.  If the name of John Barney is correct, we do not know whether he was a member of the family.
[41] MS3782/1/32/1-16. 12th  June 1781.
[42] Wolverhampton Local Archives, DX-174/7.
[43]Barney sent from Wolverhampton large picture of General Wolfe…’Hodges to MB. 30.11.1781. MS3782/12/63/20.
[44] WAG, LP311
[45] W D John and Jacqueline Simcox. English Decorated Trays (1550-1850). The Ceramic Book Company, Newport, England, 1964. P.120-121.
[46] Jones, Yvonne. Georgian and Victorian Japanned Wares of the Midlands. Catalogue of the permanent collection and a temporary exhibition. 1982. P.74-75. In an informal discussion, Yvonne Jones agreed with a possibility of this attribution.
[47] MS3782/12/45/200. 2nd July.1800.
[48] Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members. Names B. Last access 6 April 2009.
[49] Email from Dr A R Morton, Archivist/Deputy Curator, Sandhurst Collection RMAS: Cattermole F J. Records of the Royal Military Academy 1741-1892. Woolwich, 1892.
[50] Wolverhampton Chronicle. 10 July 1811; Graves, A. The British Institution, 1806-1867. 1875. P.29.
[51] Wolverhampton St Peter: Baptisms 1539-1812. Surname ‘Ba’.
[52] Ibid.
[53] Pigot’s Directory, 1830.
[54]Knoedler & Co. Biographical notes of XVIII & XIX century mezzo-tinters not mentioned  in our two previous brochures.1905. P.27.
[55] In Wolverhampton sources, there is no record of George Barney’s birth or baptism. Also, it seems that the family lived in London at that time.
[56] Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, 1966, pp 60-61.  Sutton R. George Barney (1792-1862), First Colonial Engineer.// Engineering Conference 1984: Conference Papers. Institution of Engineers, Australia. No84/1. Pp.13-17.
[57] International Genealogical Index: 
[58] International Genealogical Index:
[59] International Genealogical Index:
[60] No author. The Wolverhampton Painter of the Black Country’s own ‘Passion of the Christ’ – and his Illustrious Ancestors.’// The Black Country Bugle. 25th March 2004.
[61] Cit. in: Jobst, Keith. The Barneys. 1835-1865. Brisbane, 1997. P.3.

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