Baxter, George

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Baxter, George

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1804 - 1867

History

George Baxter, who was trained as a lithographer and engraver, developed a process to produce colour prints from blocks and plates using oil-based inks. His aim was to provide good, inexpensive prints for popular sale and to imitate oil painting. He said of his prints, "that while their artistic beauty may procure for them a place in the Royal palaces throughout Europe, the prices at which they are retailed introduces them to the humblest cottages."

He was the first printer successfully to use oil-based inks. He first began to print with a succession of wood blocks, but later used metal plates as well, often printing the basic design from a steel engraving. In many cases aquatint, mezzotint, and even lithograph were introduced into the process, some prints requiring over thirty blocks. The press-work at Baxter's establishment must have been superb in order to keep so many impressions in perfect register. It seems particularly remarkable when one learns that he used Stanhope and Cogger presses, machines already outdated by some thirty years at the time he was using them.

In order to produce a number or ornamental prints resembling a highly-coloured painting, whether in oil or water colours according to my invention, I proceed first to have the design engraved on a copper or steel plate. ...By thus colouring such descriptions of impressions the result will be that the prints produced will be more exquisite in their finish, more correct in their outline, and more soft and mellow in their appearance.

Unfortunately the process was much less a commercial than an artistic success, and Baxter was constantly in debt. In 1849 he applied, pleading poverty and debt, to have his patent extended. Although the application was opposed by George Leighton, an old pupil of Baxter's, the extension was granted. In giving judgement, Lord Brougham advised Baxter to grant licences, he said that the process was of "public utility," but seemed sorry that the public benefited more than Baxter.

Baxter retired from active business in 1860, but the sale of his prints and materials was a failure and much of the material was bought in by the auctioneer. He began to republish his prints late in 1864 or early in 1865. Later in 1865 he became bankrupt. On January 11, 1867, Baxter died as the result of injuries received in an omnibus accident. After his death his prints were published as Baxter Prints by Vincent Brooks, Day & Son and as their own by Le Blond & Co., his licencees.

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Victoria University Library - Special Collections

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