George Baird Shaw

Artist: George Baird Shaw (Also known as Baird Shaw)

Born: 23 March 1812, Edinburgh Scotland

Died: 18th September 1883

Places of Residence in Australia:

  • Castlereagh Street, Sydney, New South Wales
  • 1868 Burton Street, Sydney, New South Wales
  • 1867 Ward Street, North Adelaide, South Australia
  • Crown Street, Sydney, New South Wales
  • South Australia

Baird was a painter, illustrator, photographer, engraver and lithographer. He was born on 23 March 1812 in Dumfries, Scotland, elder son of James and Isabella Shaw.

His younger brother was the painter James Shaw whom he later followed to Australia. Both boys were taught to draw, paint and lithograph by their father and probably accompanied him on local sketching expeditions. George was sent to the Academy of Fine Arts at Trieste, Italy, to perfect his artistic skills.

After returning to Scotland he was commissioned to do the illustrations for the Abbotsford edition of Sir Walter Scott’s works and, later, the engravings for Lockhardt’s Life of Scott. For several years, he also worked as an illustrator on the London Art Journal.

In January 1851 Shaw arrived in the Titan at Dunedin, New Zealand. A surviving view of the town dated that year (Hocken Library, University of Otago) may be the view he exhibited in November and was proposing to make into a lithograph. It was not executed due to lack of support. In 1856 Shaw left New Zealand for Australia. First he visited his brother in Adelaide, showing Othello and Iago and Edinburgh, from the Calton Hill as an Adelaide resident at the first exhibition of the South Australian Society of Arts in 1857. Then he settled in Crown Street, Sydney. Over the next decade Shaw completed a series of portraits, some drawn, some engraved, of Sydney politicians and clergy. Surviving lithographs include portraits of Bishop Frederick Barker, Dean William Cowper, Sir Daniel Cooper (Speaker of the House of Assembly) and Sir Stewart Donaldson.

Shaw returned to South Australia in 1866, again presumably to see James, who had been living there since 1850. In 1867 he was listed as a resident of Ward Street, North Adelaide. Several proof copies of his engravings were shown in December 1866 with the South Australian Society of Arts, among them one of The Silver Cord Loosed after the Scottish artist Sir Joseph Noel Paton. At the society’s 1867 exhibition he was awarded the 5-guinea prize for the best South Australian oil landscape painting, not less than 30 × 20 inches (76.2 × 50.8 cm) in size, by a resident South Australian artist. His winning exhibit, the view from the hill opposite Beyer’s garden looking down the main East Adelaide road, was thought ‘tolerably correct’ by the South Australian Advertiser, ‘but the position chosen is, for artistic purposes, unfortunate. Our hills, especially in Spring, offer to the eye such an unvarying mass of brilliant green that a wearisome sameness in the picture is almost inevitable’.

Platts notes that Shaw revisited Christchurch (NZ) later in 1867. The following year he was living in Sydney, at 128 Burton Street, when the Sydney Morning Herald reported: ‘Mr Shaw, well known as an engraver, has commenced an attentive study of lush vegetation and is preparing to give us some truthful representations of it. He has made a pretty little sketch of Willoughby Falls, on the North Shore, and has succeeded in catching the general characteristics of the scene very well … if … enabled to be as steady and faithful a copyist of nature as, graver in hand, he has been of works of art, he will produce some very valuable pictures of Australian scenery’.

He showed three landscapes – Harbour View, from Double BayOn the Manning River and Macleay Heads and Trial Bay – at the 1870 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition, together with a painting titled Cavalier and Ladye which was disqualified because it was not an original work. Then living at 160 Castlereagh Street, he remained there throughout the 1870s. At the 1877 exhibition of the New South Wales Academy of Art he showed a watercolour, The Bass Rock (for sale at 20 guineas), a ‘crayon’ portrait of A. Roberts MD, and an oil painting, The Pets (12 guineas). Said to have been a photographer in Edinburgh, G.B. Shaw is not known to have practised professionally in Australia. The photographs used as the basis of his portrait lithographs were not necessarily taken by him


National Portrait Gallery

National Library Australia

State Library of NSW

Mitchell Library

Reference: Dictionary of Australian Artists to 1870 (Kerr) page 717-718