Frank Paton

Frank Paton

Frank Paton (1855 - 1909) was an English artist of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, best known for his paintings of animals and scenes of rural life. He was a successful artist during his lifetime and could even count Queen Victoria as an admirer of his work. [Queen Victoria ordered a proof of "Puss in Boots" following its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1880 (source of information: Animal Magic by John Adams, Country Life magazine, December 22, 1988).] His most famous compositions, "Fairest of Them All" and "Puss in Boots" (1880), have adorned many a wall in the form of plates and posters. In addition, his series of printed Christmas cards published between 1880 and 1909 have become an affordable way for those interested in Paton's art to begin a collection.


Frank Paton was born on November 23, 1855 in Stepney, London, England. [Information obtained from the birth certificate of Frank Paton, registered on 1st Jan 1856 in the sub district of Ratcliff, Middlesex.] He was the youngest child of James Paton and Mary Ann Paton, nee Ross. [The parish records of a) St Peter & St Paul, Milton near Gravesend b) St Vincent street Scotch Church, Stepney and c) St Dunstan, Stepney reveal that James and Mary Ann Paton had six sons, other than Frank, and a daughter (also called Mary Ann) between the years 1838 and 1851. Their fourth son, Charles, died in infancy from cholera (source of information: death certificate of Charles Henry Paton, registered August 27, 1846 in the sub-district of Mile End Old Town, Middlesex).] Although Stepney, in the East End of London, was a stronghold for the Paton family, [The Parish records of St Dunstan, Stepney, show that Frank Paton's paternal grandparents were called James and Mary Paton and that they were resident in Stepney from 1808. According to the 1841 census of England and Wales, both were Scottish. Census returns and parish records show that many of their children established families in Stepney and surrounding parishes.] Frank Paton grew up in and around Gravesend, Kent as his father was a maritime pilot [The Corporation of Trinity House Registers of Pilots' Licences (London) 1808-1986, Guildhall Library (Ms 30172) record James Paton as first being examined by them on October 27, 1840. His last entry in the register is dated December 2, 1856 and his address was "Gravesend". 1861 and 1871 England and Wales Census returns for the parishes of Milton and Gravesend respectively, confirm that James Paton remained a Pilot for the rest of his working life. Both censuses show Frank Paton living with his family.] (Gravesend, at the mouth of the river Thames, was a pilots' station for the port of London). [Source: Pears Encyclopaedia, 82nd edition (gazetteer entry for Gravesend).]

Unlike his brothers, the majority of whom entered the Merchant Navy, [The Index of Apprentices' indentures, the National Archives (BT 150), show that Frank Paton's eldest brother James was apprenticed to the Merchant Navy on August 1, 1853. His brothers John and Frederick are recorded in the Lloyd's Captains Register 1851 - 1911, Guildhall (Ms 18567). Of his two remaining brothers, William Paton was a Trinity House Pilot (from the will of William Hutchinson Paton, witnessed April 11, 1906, obtained from First Avenue House) and George Edmiston Paton was a Shipwright (the recorded occupation on his certificate of marriage to Rachel Laws, February 24, 1883).] Frank Paton showed an early talent for drawing animals and was allowed to follow his artistic bent.Information from an anonymous tribute to Frank Paton, contained within the inner sleeve of a portfolio of the artist held at the British Museum.] His first known exhibition was at the tender age of sixteen, the piece being a portrait of a German peasant girl.Source of information: Animal Magic by John Adams, Country Life magazine, December 22, 1988.] Family rumour has it that Paton briefly spent time in France working in stained glass before being recalled by his father. It is believed that he then travelled to and made a living in Australia. Paton had relatives in Australia - an Uncle and Aunt had emigrated there from London in the 1850s and settled in Williamstown, Victoria [The death certificate of Ann Kilgour, nee Paton, records that she died on December 18, 1897 in Williamstown, Victoria. She was born in Stepney and had lived 46 years in Victoria (emigrated c. 1851). Her brother Robert Paton (also born in Stepney) died on January 5, 1898 and his death certificate states that he had been in Victoria for 43 years (emigrated c. 1855). Their parents are recorded as James Paton and Mary Paton, formally Edmonstone/Edmondson (Frank Paton's paternal grandparents). Information provided by researcher M Flanagan.] - so the story is plausible and Australian immigration records of the time show that a Frank Paton, aged 19, an unassisted passenger on the "Shannon" from London, arrived in Melbourne in September 1875. [There are no other Frank Patons recorded in the England and Wales Birth Index born around 1855/1856, so unless the age of this passenger was inaccurately recorded, or they were of another nationality, this could only be the artist Frank Paton]

If Paton did spend time in Australia then it is unclear for how long. What is certain, however, is that he was in England during 1878 as this was the year that his painting "You Are No Chicken" - a modest sized oil on panel featuring two chicks staring at a frog - was accepted by the Royal Academy for exhibition. [Information provided by the Royal Academy] It was to be a turning point in the young artist's career as the work was purchased by Edward Ernest Leggatt. Although only the same age as Paton, Leggatt was already running a print and art dealership from a Fenchurch Street address in London. [The 1878 - 1884 editions of The City of London Directory list Edward Ernest Leggatt's premises as 46 Fenchurch Street. A further shop at 62 Cheapside was opened in 1884 and commemorated by Paton in his Christmas card of that year. By 1890 the business was operating as "Leggatt Brothers" and had expanded into publishing and picture-frame manufacturing (source of information: The City of London Directory, 1890 edition). The 1881 census for England and Wales shows Edward E Leggatt to be the head of a household comprised mainly of his brothers (two of them print-setters and a further brother a picture restorer), and his age is given as 26 putting his birth year c.1855.] "You Are No Chicken" was engraved in mezzotint by J B Pratt in 1880. Its commercial success cemented a lifelong association with Leggatt, who became the main publisher of Frank Paton's work.

In April 1881 Frank Paton married Mary Sophia Edwards (1852 -1929), with the artist Basil Holmes (c.1825 - 1902) bearing witness to the union. [Basil Holmes' record of probate (obtained from First Avenue House) records that he "died on the 28th day of July 1902 at Herongate" (near Brentwood, Essex). Census returns for England and Wales put Holmes' birth year c.1925. Although he trained as an engineer (source of information: marriage certificate of Basil Gent Holmes to Lydia Edwards, July 25, 1853), he became an artist and exhibited two works at the Royal Academy: 1844 Cat No 574 Landscape; 1850 Cat no 889 Mow Cop, Cheshire. Holmes also exhibited at the British Institution and the Royal Society of British Artists (information provided by the Royal Academy).] [Source of information: Frank Paton's certificate of marriage to Mary Sophia Edwards, April 30, 1881, Leytonstone, Essex.] Mary, known as 'Marian' within the family, [Christened Mary Sophia Edwards (source of information: Winterborne Houghton parish records and the marriage certificate of Frank Paton), but recorded as "Marian Edwards" on the 1871 England and Wales Census for Exeter and referred to as "Marian Paton wife of Frank Paton" in the will of Basil Holmes, witnessed 25 Dec 1899 (obtained from First Avenue House).] was from Winterborne Houghton in Dorset. She was brought up from an early age by Basil Holmes and his wife Lydia, who was Mary's maternal aunt. [The parish records of Winterborne Houghton, Dorset reveal that Mary's parents were cousins Eli Edwards and Merab Edwards. The England and Wales Death Index records that Eli died in 1860. This may have been the event that led to Mary being raised by the Holmes family. According to England and Wales Censuses of the time, she appears to have been in their care from at least 1861 until the time of her marriage to Frank Paton. Basil Holmes' wife Lydia Holmes, nee Edwards, was the younger sister of Merab Edwards (source of information: Winterborne Houghton Parish records). Merab remarried in 1862 to a George Allen. The death certificate of Merab Allen records that she died on February 12, 1869, the cause of death: "Decline Not Certified". Decline was an archaic expression sometimes used to denote phythisis, itself an archaic term for pulmonary tuberculosis. "Not Certified" suggests that the condition had remained undiagnosed until her death. It is possible, then, that Mary Edwards continued to be entrusted to the care of Basil and Lydia Holmes because of Merab's ill health. The 1871 Census of England and Wales for Exeter shows that Mary's sister, Fanny Constantine Edwards, had joined the Holmes family as a permanent addition by that time. Winterbourne Houghton parish records information provided by researcher M Flanagan.] Most likely under the tutorage of Basil Holmes, Mary became a talented, amateur artist in her own right as is evident from a pair of etchings by her own hand: "Old Inn Chigwell" and "A Glade near Woodford". [Etchings in the private collection of D Horne, great grandson of Frank Paton. The 1871 census also records Marian Edward's profession as "drawing instructor".]

After marrying, Frank Paton mainly lived in rural communities in Kent and Essex. [The following is a list of all known addresses for Frank Paton during his professional career:
1878 - 1880 Hampsted Road, Leytonstone, Middlesex (information provided by the Royal Academy)
1881 - 1886 Ditton Place Farm, Ditton, near Maidstone, Kent (information provided by the Royal Academy and name of residence obtained from the 1884 Electoral Roll for the parish of Ditton: researched by B Frost)
1887 - 1889 Herongate, near Brentwood (information provided by the Royal Academy)
1889 - 1895 Scotts Farm, Moreton near Ongar, Essex (address given on the birth certificates of the last four of Frank Paton's children, born during this period)
1899 Silver Street, Malden, Essex (from the will of Frank Paton, witnessed May 1, 1899)
1909 40 the parade, Walton on Naze, Essex (from the death certificate of Frank Paton).
] He divided his time between London and the countryside, accepting commissions for animal portraits by their owners. He was a good family man and raised four sons and three daughters with his wife. [Frank and Mary Paton’s children (from eldest to youngest) were as follows: Frank, Basil, Agnes, Marian, Philip, Dorothy and Leonard (information provided by researcher B Frost, from the birth certificates of all seven children). The Deaths Index for England and Wales records Frank Paton Junior dying in 1900 at the age of 18.] Of these, his second eldest son Basil and youngest daughter Dorothy showed considerable artistic talent (the latter becoming a commercial artist and occasionally exhibiting works in public). [Dorothy Paton exhibited three works at the Royal Academy: 1920 Red Cross Nurse (546); 1930 Market Place Romford - etching (1114); 1932 Winchelsea Church - aquatint (1026). She also exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Society of Women Artists. (information provided by the Royal Academy).]

Although never a member of the Royal Academy, a total of 20 works by Paton were exhibited at their annual selling exhibition between the years 1878 and 1890.Information provided by the Royal Academy.] However, Frank Paton is perhaps most widely known for his series of etched Christmas cards published annually by Edward Ernest Leggatt from 1880 until Paton's death in 1909. They were intended to be a cut above the average Christmas card and sold for half a guinea each. Their format became quite formulaic over the years. A central subject reflecting the title of the print was usually complemented by a series of often humorous sketches around its border. A number of the prints would be sent from the printers to be signed in pencil by Paton. [ The British Museum portfolio of Frank Paton has an anonymous tribute written shortly after the artist's death. It records that a pile of his Christmas card "The End of the Day" "alas too late were sent him on Friday last for signature". The example of this etching in the museum's portfolio is actually signed, so it must have been a regular occurrence that batches were sent to the artist for signature. The many Frank Paton etchings bearing his mark indicate that this was the case.]

From 1890 Frank Paton no longer exhibited at the Royal Academy following a dispute with the organisers. His reputation firmly established, it was of little consequence and the artist continued to work until his final days. At the time of his death Paton was living in Walton on Naze, Essex. During the summer of 1909 the family had moved to a new house, which was undergoing alterations and repairs. Paton spent the day of November 12, 1909 discussing and supervising the works with his builder and then in the evening, at around 11.30, suffered a heart attack. Although a doctor was called, Frank Paton died from heart failure at around 5.30 am on November 13, 1909 just 10 days short of his 54th birthday. [From an article about the death of Frank Paton, Essex County Standard, West Suffolk Gazette and Eastern Counties Advertiser, November 20, 1909, page 2. Angina Pectoris was recorded as the cause of death on Frank Paton's death certificate, registered November 19, 1909 by his widow. All information provided by researcher B Frost.] In 1919 Edward E. Leggatt donated a full set of copies of Frank Paton's prints to the British Museum. ["Drawing and Prints for the Nation, British Museum Additions", Times newspaper, September 8, 1919.] In the inside cover of the Museum's portfolio of the artist is an anonymous tribute to Paton, written shortly after his death. Frank Paton is described as, "A kindly, modest, unassuming man with a rare fund of humour, which is reflected in his etchings. He leaves a large circle of friends and admirers to mourn his untimely and terribly sudden death." Fittingly, Paton's last ever Christmas card was called "The End of the Day".

Christmas Cards by Frank Paton

1880 Xmas card
1881 Xmas card
1882 Xmas card
1883 Xmas card
1884 Cheapside - E.E. Leggatt's New Shop
1884 Xmas card
1885 Xmas card
1886 Meeting of Unemployed
1887 Not at Home
1888 Round and Ready
1889 The Good Old Days
1890 Every Dog Has Its Day
1891 Notice To Quit
1892 The Pleasures of Hope
1893 Out of the Hunt
1894 Royal and Ancient (St Andrews)
1895 The Ordeal by Fire
1896 Recollections of a Record Reign
1897 Gone Away
1898 Our Grandfathers' Hobbies
1899 British Interests
1900 Coming Events Cast their Shadows Before
1901 Dy’e Ken John Peel
1902 A Deep Dream of Peace (Leigh Hunt)
1904 Hunting Incidents
1905 Are You There
1906 Gun Fire "A Good Start"
1907 Eight Above the Line
1908 The World Went Very Well Then (Xmas)
1909 The End of the Day (signed on the day he died)

From a book of Christmas Cards by Frank Paton, held at the British Museum. Information provided by researcher B Frost who viewed the British Museum's portfolio of Frank Paton on November 11, 1993.]

Original Etchings by Frank Paton

After Thomas Blinks
After G. S . Kilburne
After C. E. Brock
Fishing and Shooting, after Charles Whymper
After N. H. Baird
After J Yates Carrington
After A. A. Davis
After A. W. Holder
After L. B. Hurt
After A. Thornton
After S. E. Waller

From the British Museum's portfolio of Frank Paton.

Works Exhibited by the Royal Academy

1878 "You are no chicken" (139)
1880 Puss in boots (475)
1881 Winter quarters (570); Babes in "The Wood" (958)
1882 Little Milksops (461); "Witness my act and deed" (1495); Both Parent and Guardian (1504)
1883 England, Scotland, and Ireland - bull dog, collie, and pure Irish terrier (614); The cat's-cradle (822)
1884 More free than welcome (427); Rough and ready (441); Their first lesson (692)
1886 Opening the ball (93); Greed (1419); Tree'd (1429)
1887 Not at home (314)
1888 A happy family(231); Ploughing (614)
1890 Washing day (1080); A happy family (1095)

Information provided by the Royal Academy.

Notes and References

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