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Byam Shaw

John Byam Liston Shaw (November 13, 1872January 26, 1919), commonly known as Byam Shaw, was an Indian-born British painter, illustrator, designer and teacher.


John Byam Liston Shaw was the son of John Shaw and Sophia Alicia Byam Gunthorpe. In 1899 Byam Shaw married the artist Evelyn Eunice Pyke-Nott, later known as Evelyn CE Shaw (1870-1959). The couple had five children including the actor and theatre director Glen Byam Shaw and the art historian J. (Jim) Byam Shaw. The family are depicted in the artist's semi-autobiographical pastel painting My Wife, My Bairns and My Wee Dog John (1903).

Life and work

Born in Madras, Byam Shaw's father John was the registrar of the High Court at Madras. The family returned to England in 1878 where they settled in Kensington, living at 103 Holland Row. Recognising early artistic promise, in 1887 Millais was shown Byam Shaw's work and he recommended the 15 year old enter the St John's Wood Art Schools. It was here that he first met fellow artist Rex Vicat Cole and his future wife Evelyn Pyke-Nott. From 1890, Byam Shaw studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he won the Armitage Prize in 1892 for his work The Judgement of Solomon.

Throughout his career Byam Shaw worked competently in a wide variety of media including oils, watercolour, pastels, pen and ink and also deployed techniques such as dyeing and gilding.

Later in his life, as his popularity as an artist wained, Byam Shaw turned to teaching for his living. He taught at the Women's Department of King's College London from 1904 and founded the Byam Shaw School of Art in 1910 with Vicat Cole. Evelyn Shaw also had an active role in the new school, teaching the miniatures class, her area of expertise. Byam Shaw had had a long association with the artist and illustrator Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale and she also taught at his and Cole's new school.

At the outbreak of World War One Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole enlisted in the Artists' Rifles although Shaw would soon transfer to the Special Constabulary. Byam Shaw produced war cartoons that were published in many newspapers and also found work with memorial commissions. Not long after the war ended, Byam Shaw collapsed and died. His funeral was held at St Barnabus', Addison Road. Years before, he had designed two stunning yellow-hued stained glass windows for this church, depicting Saints' Cecilia and Margaret and an ornate red, green and gilt monument to his life, in a 15th century style, still stands here. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Notable works


  • Love the Conqueror (1899) Now lost, but documented in a series of photographs taken during its creation, Byam Shaw considered this his masterpiece. The work contains over 200 figures. Widely lauded at the time of its exhibition, it is now recognised as somewhat flawed.
  • Boer War 1900 (1901) The subtitle for this epic is 'Last summer green things were greener, brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer,' a Christina Rossetti quote.
  • The Greatest of All Heroes is One (1905) Inspired by a Thomas Carlyle quote, the painting reinterprets Carlyle's 'Great Man' with a more imperialistic ideal. Another lost work, it included amongst its large cast colonial military heroes of the Victorian era such as General Gordon and General Nicholson stood alongside historical icons like Alexander the Great.

Book illustrations

  • Poems by Robert Browning, (1897)
  • Tales from Boccaccio done into English by Joseph Jacobs (1899)
  • Chiswick Shakespeare - 500 plates
  • Laurence Hope's book, The Garden of Kama (1901) - these illustrations form some of Byam Shaw's more famous.
  • Historic Record of the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (1904) - commissioned to produce 34 illustrations

Other works


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