Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


72 The Back of a House in Oxford ? c.1790-95

Grey washes over pencil no laid paper 26.9 x 19.3 (10 5/8 x 7 5/8)
Inscribed verso in pencil '9' and 'Oxford'


A pupil of John Baptist Malchair (see no.24) when an undergraduate at Oxford, William Henry Barnard is usually identified as the man of that name who matriculated at Pembroke College on 22 June 1790 at the age of twenty-three (Williams 1952, p.93). The son of an Irish parson (and grandson of the Bishop of Derry), Barnard himself took orders in 1793. Of all Malchair's pupils it is perhaps Barnard whose work is most readily confused with that of the master.

Malchair's pupils were encouraged to work in monochrome (pencil, chalks and grey washes) rather than watercolour and taught to describe form using tone and mass rather than outline (see under no.58). In fact, Malchair's students did sometimes use colour, but when they did it was generally only added over substantial preliminary underdrawing in pencil or chalk, this being the method favoured by William Crotch, for example (see no.76). Barnard, like Malchair, however, generally used colour more sparingly, and frequently not at all. Barnard also tended to favour the same sort of humble, inconsequential subject that Malchair had found in the alleyways and back streets of Oxford. This unidentified (and, perhaps, unidentifiable) view by Barnard of a hidden corner somewhere in Oxford, for example, can be compared with Malchair's Merton Stable Yarde 1775 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), which is similarly executed in grey washes over pencil and which features at the heart of its composition a drainage hole and a stack of logs. Most of Barnard's drawings of Oxford would seem to date from the 1790s.

The fact that various members of the 'Oxford School' often made copies from each other's drawings only adds to the potential for confusion over attribution. For example, another drawing by Barnard in the Opp? collection, Castellated Mill on a Waterfall (T09426), was copied from a drawing by Malchair (also in the Opp? collection, T09427); Malchair's version had in turn been copied from an original by Sir George Beaumont.

Anne Lyles

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.178 no.72, reproduced in colour p.179