Edwin Butler Bayliss: Poet Painter of the Black Country at Wolverhampton Art Gallery

By Richard Moss | 22 January 2013

Edwin Butler Bayliss: Poet Painter of the Black Country at Wolverhampton Art Gallery until April 27 2013.

a painting of an industrial landscape of slag heaps and chimneys
Tipping the slag.© Christopher Bayliss/ artist’s estate
The image of the Black Country as a smoke-filled engineering heartland may be due to the inexorable progress of the industrial revolution and the steady growth of early twentieth century British manufacturing, but the paintings of local artist Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874 – 1950) also play a major part in the gritty image of the West Midlands.

Bayliss, the son of an iron manufacturer, lived through the apex of Britain’s industrial period and, as the region’s factories and mines expanded around him, his highly prolific brush captured both the drama and the harshness of the industrial Midlands.

Slag heaps, blood red smelting plants, bellowing factory chimneys and the weary trudge of the anonymous coal pickers and workers who lived amidst the Black Country’s belching furnaces were his stock in trade.

In his favoured stamping grounds around the areas of Bilston and Tipton close to the Hickman furnaces he captured the bleak landscape with an almost Dickensian eye for narrative detail - and pathos.

Looking at these searing paintings today there is evidence of the impressionistic palette of his contemporaries, few of whom chose the industrial heartlands as their subject matter. And in a handful of them the stark beauty of later artists such as Graham Sutherland and even George Shaw come to mind.

But as this exhibition, which mines Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s unparalleled holding of his work shows, Butler Bayliss also enjoyed the luxury of escaping from the smoke ravaged environment depicted in his apocalyptic Midland canvasses to paint some surprising and beautiful seascapes of the Welsh coastline including Aberdovey, Anglesey and Cemaes Bay.

Having boarded at School in Wales, he holidayed regularly on the Welsh coast where he captured his family relaxing and playing on the shore in a refreshing cool palette of blues and greens.  

Also featured in this exhibition are the works of some of his contemporaries including William Sidney Causer, Richard Samuel Chattock, and Joseph Vickers de Ville as well as present-day artists including Robert Perry, Brian Steventon, Paul Hipkiss, and Arthur Lockwood who show how the Black Country continues to be a source of inspiration today.

a painting of three weary figures walking along a path towards a grey industrial landscape with chimneys and factories in the distance
Evening in the Black Country© Christopher Bayliss/ artist’s estate
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