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George Baxter

1804 - 1867

George Baxter was born on 31 July 1804 in Lewes, Sussex, the son of John Baxter a noted printer, publisher and bookseller. George Baxter displayed great artistic talent whilst at school and upon leaving was apprenticed to a wood engraver. In 1827 he married Mary Harrild, the daughter of Robert Harrild who was a manufacturer of printing machinery and with backing from his father-in-law, he set up his own printing business. About this time George Baxter started to experiment with colour printing, and he published his first colour print "Butterflies" in 1829. By 1834 Baxter was producing colour prints used as frontispieces in books and in 1835 Baxter had developed his method of colour printing sufficiently to apply for a patent. His process meant that colour printing could be achieved relatively cheaply and for the first time made colour available to all. He died in 1867 after nearly 30 years of producing a range of colour prints on a variety of different subjects to a very high standard.

In his process George Baxter used wood and metal colour blocks in conjunction with steel key plates to produce his pictures using oil inks. The subject was first engraved onto a steel key plate and impressions of this plate were taken, from which the colour blocks were cut - a different block being produced for each different colour. The steel key plate would be used to print a monochrome picture and then the colours would be built up by printing from the colour blocks using the relief process. Some of the prints required only 8 different blocks but some involved as many as 20 different colours, each being superimposed on the other after being allowed to dry. Baxter was meticulous in his work taking great care that the colours were not applied out of register and only applying two colours per day at the most, allowing each to dry between each pressing. George Baxter produced large quantities of about 400 different subjects and brought colour printing to the masses. Although his work was initially used as book illustrations, he soon found a market for single prints as decorative subjects for the home.

During 1838-9 and 1846-7 Baxter is considered to have produced his finest and most serious work as an artist and colour printer, depicting the activities and exploits of active missionary societies. His talents were at their peak, both with regards to design and colour and with the exception of his book illustrations, his prints were now published in more significant sizes and were all original designs. Financially this was a disastrous period for Baxter, as his method required too much labour to be profitable. Most of the large prints published at this time in colour were issued by subscription only.