John Byam Shaw - My Wife, My Bairns, and my wee dog JohnJohn Byam Shaw was born in Madras in 1872. He began his career under the influences of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, and in particular artists such as John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) in the 1890s.
In this portrait Shaw includes both his family and maidservants. Pictured from left to right, are: the nurse holding baby James, with Venn’ the house parlour-maid sitting below; Shaw’s wife Caroline holding their daughter Barbara, and, on the chair driving the wooden horse, his son George. Last, but not least, is ‘wee dog John’.
Shaw himself is present, but not as part of the main family group. He appears as an eerie reflection in the mirror, half concealed in tobacco smoke.
That Shaw has included his servants within the group testifies to their importance within this particular family. The figures themselves could not be more ‘staged’, and Shaw’s triangular composition leads all eyes down to the little dog. It is possible that Shaw worked from a photograph, as such young children would have proved restless models, no matter how perfect their composure here.
Pastels on this scale are rare, and Shaw has elevated the medium to the status of the ‘Academy’ oil painting.