The Inventor of the Oil Prints - George Baxter’s Birthplace, Lewes Sussex - Paul Braddon
1) Baxter's Birthplace at 37 High Street Lewes by Paul Braddon 2) Title etc on the reverse 3) Another copy sold Sept 2020 courtesy of Bamfords Auctioneers 4) John Baxter's shop as it was in 1809 taken from The Picture Printer 1924 5) 34 - 35 High Street Lewes as it is today - W E Baxter Ltd is no longer there but the frontage has been retained 6) Baxter Birthplace from The Centenary Baxter Book
I recently acquired an artwork, watercolour over pencil, of this subject which shows the place where George Baxter was born above his father’s shop at 37 High Street Lewes on 31st July 1804. It is mounted on board with the full title, as above, in Braddon’s hand on the reverse.
Paul Braddon (1864–1937) was the pseudonym of James Leslie Crees who is a well-known and prolific artist. His Wikipedia entry says “He made pencil sketches of buildings and scenes, carefully annotated, from which he produced the eventual watercolours. His output was prolific, as it needed to be in order for him to earn a living. For several years he painted exclusively for a London firm which sold many of his pictures in the United States.” It appears he chose his subjects well and I have seen a number titled ‘the birthplace of…’
I have seen other examples of this subject by the artist, many years ago I saw a copy in Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery. At the time I sketched the basic design so I can tell that it is subtly different to my copy. That copy was described as “Watercolour by Paul Braddon given by Sarah Harris 1938 descendant of Edwin Harris – apprentice to WE Baxter” – this was a later trading name for Baxter’s father company which by then was run by his brother William Edwin Baxter. WE Baxter was a trading name used until very recently. Another copy went through the auction house of Bamfords Auctioneers in September 2020, again a slightly different design from the two other copies.
At some date John Baxter moved to 34- 35 High Street. The last published mention of John Baxter at 37 High Street that I can find is in John Baxter’s ‘Stranger in Brighton’ in 1827, in most publications he refers to his address as just High Street Lewes. I do not know when the business took over No’s 34-35 but I can trace William Edward (sic) Baxter listed at 35 High Street in the list of members in The Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society for 1849.
The Picture Printer by Courtney Lewis illustrates a picture of John Baxter’s premises taken from the cover of John Baxter’s own book ‘Sister Arts - Or, A Concise & Interesting View of the Nature & History of Paper-making, Printing & Bookbinding’ published in 1809 and the building is remarkably similar to all the copies.
All three paintings show just the one building belonging to Baxter so it must again relate to No 37 and date the image to prior to Baxter taking over No’s 34-35.
Both the Maidstone and my copy also show the words “Sussex Express” across the building www.brightonhistory.org.uk/ states that the Sussex Agricultural Express was founded in 1837 but changed its name to just Sussex Express in 1889.
I feel that all these paintings were most probably produced around 1910 -1920’s when interest in Baxter was at its peak. He was a commercial artist and presumably felt that at that time paintings of Baxter’s birthplace would be sought-after. As was normal for him, as with other artists, if an item was popular he would think nothing of producing more copies. There may be others I do not know of.
As to the date that the image supposedly portrays. That would be before Baxter moved into No’s 34-35 but perhaps after 1837 when they founded The Sussex( (Agricultural) Express. I don’t feel that Braddon was too worried about getting the building looking exactly how it looked in earlier years and did use some poetic licence even to the extent of painting a sign leaning on the front of the shop in the Bamfords’ copy ‘ Oil Prints on sale’. All we do know is that the building wouldn’t have looked like this at the time it was painted.
I feel, even if he did visit Lewes to paint, he would have used the picture on the cover of the ‘Sister Arts’ to get the best possible likeness of the building as it would have looked in 1804. He might have even taken the image from The Picture Printer which would date the painting after 1924 and could have added the Sussex Express and Oil prints on sale signs to enhance the picture. I also add an image titled as Baxter's Birthplace from The Centenary Baxter Book by Clarke & Rylatt published in 1936. Looking at all the images this photo seems to be of 37 High Street but the words 'Sussex Express' spread over both 36 and 37. Perhaps Baxter expanded into No 36 before moving completely to 34 - 35 High Street the last address known for the company?