OBITUARY : Harry Baines
Saturday 14 October 1995
Baines's love-affair with the sub-continent began during the Second World War. He served there with the Royal Engineers from 1941 to 1946, being seconded to the newly formed exhibitions division information department of the government of India as director of the design studio. His unit travelled widely, holding exhibitions to promote the war effort. One result of this Indian stay was his fine portrait of Lal Bahadur Thapa, first Indian winner of the Victoria Cross, which is now in the Imperial War Museum.
Baines would have liked to stay in India after demobilisation. He was offered a job in an advertising agency, but for family reasons returned to London, joining the Ministry of Information exhibitions, where he met his wife, Pauline Behr, a typographer and book designer. Disliking an office-bound life, Baines soon left to freelance.
He had been well trained for this. Born in Manchester, he had attended junior art school from the age of 14. His father, who worked in insurance, and his mother encouraged their only child and from 1930 to 1934 Baines attended Manchester School of Art under R.A. Dawson, winning the Heywood Medal. Baines's drawing master was friendly with the medical school, and art students were able to take part in dissecting, which Baines said helped his knowledge of anatomy. Another formative influence was a show of William Roberts's work. Surviving drawings from this period indicate Roberts's influence, although Baines was to evolve a livelier, powerful style.
Baines's diploma was in mural painting, and during the next five years he completed murals in the North. Examples at Timperley Church, Cheshire, and Longford Cinema, Manchester, were included in the Tate Gallery show "Contemporary British Mural Painting", in 1938. There was a brief period teaching at Bristol Art College before war intervened.
In 1949 Baines and his wife visited Italy, a Spartan stay in a hill hut that had been used by partisans. A Tate Gallery post-war show of modern French painting had been an eye- opener for Baines, and he now became impressed by the Italian Realists, such as Guttuso, whose work was prominent in the Venice Biennale of 1950. The people and countryside of Italy became a further passion for Baines, who returned from a holiday there only 10 days before he died.
Not surprisingly, Baines's Realism attracted the attention of the critic John Berger, who wrote an introduction to a portfolio of his lithographs, Quarrymen, published in 1953. A friend had suggested Baines look at the limestone quarry workers near Plymouth, who proved an apt subject. Reviewing an exhibition of paintings on Indian themes at the Commonwealth Institute in 1955, Berger said that Baines "communicates what he feels by means of superb draughtsmanship. The weight of a stone that a woman carries on her head can be seen in her ankle". He praised "an important contribution to the development of English Realism".
Baines's superb drawings, done on leave in the war, of sculptures and pictures in the Ellora and Ajanta caves had made an impressive show at India House in 1946. In 1954 he and his wife travelled India for six months, then in the early 1960s he was there again to record impressions as British engineers built a steelworks in West Bengal. Soon after, he painted murals in the British pavilion at Delhi Industrial Fair, then in 1972, as guest of the Indian Council for Cultural Affairs, Baines began a systematic study of Indian sculpture.
In 1976, with the writer Richard Lannoy, Baines was commissioned for the book The Eye of Love, concentrating on temple sculpture. The drawings were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in London. Indian and Italian drawings were featured in Baines's last solo show, at Alpha House Gallery, Sherborne, in 1992.
Frederick Harry Baines, artist: born Manchester 19 June 1910; married 1952 Pauline Behr; died London 8 October 1995.
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