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Byam Shaw

British, 1872 - 1919

Shaw, John Byam Liston

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Byam Shaw (as he was always known) was born in India, his father being the Registrar of the High Court at Madras. He was brought to England at the age of six and educated at home. In 1887, on his father's death, he entered the St. John's Wood Art School, transferring to the RA Schools in 1890; there his fellow students included Gerald Metcalfe with whom he shared a studio 1893-1897, and Evelyn Pyke-Nott, whom he married 1899. From the start he showed a strong feeling for narrative, an astonishing versatility, and prodigious powers of application. He began to exhibit at the RA in 1893, showing a picture inspired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a crucial influence. He also supported the New Gallery, the ROI, the Pastel Society and RWS (Associate 1913), while enjoying a close relationship with the dealers, Dowdeswell's, who bought and published his early masterpiece Love the Conqueror (1899, private collection) and held four exhibitions of his work on specific themes (subjects suggested by Ecclesiastes 1902; illustrations to Percy's Reliques 1908, etc). His most famous subject picture is probably The Boer War (1901; Birmingham). He also painted portraits, was a prolific illustrator, designed a tapestry (for Morris & Co. 1898) and stained glass, and executed one of the murals in the East Corridor of the Palace of Westminster (1908-1910). For many years he maintained a close connection with the stage, painting Ellen Terry and Dion Boucicault and designing Beerbohm Tree's production of Much Ado about Nothing (1905) and a new act drop for the London Coliseum (1914). In addition to all this he devoted much time to teaching. In 1904 he joined the staff of the Women's Department of King's College, London, and six years later he and his friend Rex Vicat Cole launched their own art school (still in existence) in Camden Street, Kensington. On the outbreak of war, he joined the United Arts Rifles, later transferring to the Special Constabulary; he also commented on the war in drawings in the press and painted one of the Canadian War memorial pictures, entitled The Flag. These labors, after years of overwork, brought about a collapse, and he died in January 1919, aged only forty-six. (The Last Romantics: The Romantic Tradition in British Art, ed. John Christian, London, 1989: 128)

Artist Bibliography

Ref Number: XXX.563

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