John Liston Byam Shaw, ARWS RI ROI (1872-1919) Byam Shaw was an astonishingly versatile artist of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, he worked variously as a painter, illustrator and cartoonist, and as a designer of stained glass, sets and costumes for the theatre, and even a tapestry for Morris & Co. Equipped with a strong sense of design and a bright palette, he was equally well suited to work in black and white and in colour. Enthusiastic and good-humoured, he was also able to communicate his many skills to others, becoming an influential teacher, and opening a school that long bore his name. Byam Shaw was born in ‘Ferndale’, a large house in Madras, India, on 13 November 1872. He was the third child and younger son of John Shaw, the Registrar of the High Court of Madras, and Sophia Alicia Byam Gunthorpe, second daughter of Captain John Houlton Gunthorpe of the Madras Horse Artillery.
In 1878, he returned to England with his parents, his father practising as a solicitor. After a year in Bath, he lived at 103 Holland Road, Kensington, London, where he received a private education, including lessons in drawing from the painter and lithographer, John Alfred Vintner. His parents encouraged him in his drive to become an artist.
On the death of his father in 1887, Shaw followed the advice of Sir John Everett Millais and studied art at St John’s Wood School of Art (1887-90), under its Principals, Abelardo Alvarez Calderón and Bernard Evans Ward, and also Thomas Edward Gaunt. It was there that he met his friends and fellow artists, Lewis Baumer, Rex Vicat Cole, Gerald Metcalfe and Evelyn Pyke-Nott, the last his future wife.
Shaw then went on – with Baumer, Metcalfe and Pyke-Nott – to the Royal Academy Schools (1890-94). While there, he won the Armitage Prize in 1892 (for his painting, The Judgement of Solomon) and, in 1893, both the Academy Schools’ watercolour competition and two prizes at the Gilbert-Garret Competition for Sketching Clubs. Like Baumer and Metcalfe, he also contributed some humorous drawings to Comic Cuts and Illustrated Bits, and would continue to publish cartoons throughout his career.
From 1893, Shaw and Metcalfe shared Whistler’s former studio at 95 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. In that year, he began to show paintings at the Royal Academy, the first being based on poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The influence of both the Pre-Raphaelites and the illustrators of the 1860s helped him to define his strong feeling for narrative, and he developed a career as a painter of literary, historical and allegorical subjects, as well as portraits.
In 1897, Shaw took on his own, larger studio at 263 Warwick Road, which had once belonged to the grandfather of Rex Vicat Cole. He exhibited widely and held five solo shows with his dealer, Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, between 1899 and 1908. He was elected to the membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1898) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils (1899), and later as an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (1913). Among the closest of his colleagues was the late Pre-Raphaelite painter, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whom he had met at the Royal Academy Schools, and who, like him, exhibited watercolours at Dowdeswell’s.
Shaw’s sensitivity to literature opened his way to work as an illustrator of such classics as Poems by Robert Browning (1897), and such contemporary historical novels as H Rider Haggard’s Pearl Maiden (1902). Later books included The Garden of Kama, and other Love Lyrics (1914), by his distant cousin, Adela Florence Nicolson (1865-1904), writing under the name, Laurence Hope.
In 1899, Shaw married Evelyn Pyke-Nott (1870-1959), who had become a miniature painter and teacher. They would have five children, including James Byam Shaw (1903-1992), art historian and dealer, and Glen Byam Shaw (1904-1986), actor and director. The family lived in Addison Road, Holland Park, first at no 28, and from 1905 at no 62.
Though continuing to exhibit regularly, and gain such prestigious commissions as that for a panel for the Palace of Westminster, in 1908, Shaw found it necessary to supplement his income with teaching. So, in 1904, he joined Rex Vicat Cole on the staff of the Ladies’ Department of King’s College, London, at 13 Kensington Square. However, necessity developed into a vocation when, in 1910, he and his close friend founded the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole School of Art at 70 Campden Street, Kensington, which offered a traditional grounding. (It was renamed the Byam Shaw School of Art on Cole’s retirement in 1926.) His last major painting was the Act Drop for the London Coliseum in 1914.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Shaw joined the United Arts Rifles, later transferring to the Special Constabulary; he published drawings of the war in the press and painted The Flag, a panel for the Canadian War Memorial. Following a collapse, he died at he the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, 40 Grove End Road, St John’s Wood, on 26 January 1919, at the age of 46.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington DC).
Further reading: Tim Barringer, ‘Shaw, (John) Byam Liston (1872-1919)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 150, pages 71-73 Rex Vicat Cole, The Art and Life of Byam Shaw, London: Service & Co, 1932 Gerald Taylor, Byam Shaw. A selection of paintings and book illustrations, Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1986 Gerald Taylor, ‘Shaw, Byam (1): (John) Byam (Liston) Shaw (b Madras, 13 Nov 1872; d London, 26 Jan 1919)’, in Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 28, page 559