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James Barry

 

 

Barry James


(b Cork, 11 Oct 1741; d London, 22 Feb 1806). Irish painter, draughtsman, printmaker and writer.

He was the son of a publican and coastal trader and studied with the landscape painter John Butts (c. 1728–65) in Cork. Early in his career he determined to become a history painter: in 1763 he went to Dublin, where he exhibited the Baptism of the King of Cashel by St Patrick (priv. col., on loan to Dublin, N.G.) at the Dublin Society of Arts, by whom he was awarded a special premium for history painting. He studied under the portrait and history painter Jacob Ennis (1728–70) at the Dublin Society’s drawing school. He attracted the attention of Edmund Burke, who in 1764 found work for him in London preparing material for volumes of the Antiquities of Athens with James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. From 1765 to 1771 Barry travelled in Europe, financially supported by Burke. He was mostly in Rome, where he moved in the circle of the Scottish painters John and Alexander Runciman and the sculptor Joseph Nollekens; he seems also to have known the Swedish Neo-classical sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. In 1773 he was elected to the Royal Academy, London, and in 1782 he became its professor of painting, but he was expelled in 1799 for the increasing eccentricity of his lectures and for his public attacks on the conduct of his fellow members. His last years were spent in penury and self-imposed isolation, alleviated only by the efforts of his few remaining friends to raise an annuity for him. His single-minded promotion of history painting in a market dominated by portraiture, his Roman Catholicism and his Republican sympathies in the increasingly reactionary climate of British politics in the years after the French Revolution often put him at odds with his English contemporaries. Because he suffered from persecution mania (he may have had acromegaly), he also alienated many of his artistic colleagues. Yet despite his bewildering originality and rebarbative personality, he was sufficiently esteemed at his death to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. His idiosyncratic approach to art attracted few followers, but the subjective quality of his vision found parallels in the art of several of his contemporaries, among them Alexander Runciman, John Hamilton Mortimer, George Romney, Fuseli and Blake. He was considered by many of the next generation as a heroic rebel against the art establishment.

 


King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia

 

 

 

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