You are here:  HomeArtists › Barry

James Barry

Born: Cork, 11 October 1741
Died: London, 22 February 1806
Nationality: Irish

son of an innkeeper and coastal trader


with landscape painter John Butts (Cork); with portrait and history painter Jacob Ennis at Dublin Society’s Drawing School


1763 – Baptism of the King of Cashel by St. Patrick (Dublin National Gallery) wins Dublin Society of Arts history painting prize

1764 – Edmund Burke helps Barry secure position as assistant to James Stuart on Stuart’s Antiquities of Athens (London)

1773 – elected member of Royal Academy (London)

1775 – publishes An Inquiry into the Real and Imaginary Obstructions to the  Acquisition of the Arts in England

1782 – becomes professor of painting at RA

1786-87 – exhibits King Lear Weeping over the Body of Cordelia at John  Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery

1798 – publishes A Letter to the Diletttanti

1799 – expelled from RA


Paris (1765); Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice (1765-71)

Commissions from: 

Edmund Burke

Important Artworks: 

Self-Portrait as Timanthes, c. 1780-1803 (National Gallery, Dublin)



Barry was Irish and was promoted in London by fellow Irishman, the philosopher Edmund Burke. Although admired by contemporary fellow artists, was Barry reviled by the Royal Academy establishment because of his nationality and religion (Roman Catholic)? The Protestant British were a hostile colonizing power in Ireland (a rebellion for independence was bloodily suppressed in 1798).

"William Blake, in a marginal note written in his copy of Malone's Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, mentions one of Barry's pictures as 'equal to Raphael or Michael Angelo or any of the Italians.' Henry Fuseli coupled him with Hogarth as a pair of 'great geniuses neglected by the public;' and John Flaxman concurred in that opinion."

"Though the Royal Academy accepted Barry at the outset of his career with cordial enthusiasm, it finally treated him with abominable injustice, and drove him forth with every circumstance of contumely. He was the only member ever to have been formally expelled from that body. Almost all subsequent historians of British art seem to have considered that the Academy's censure has justified them in joining a conspiracy to blacken his fame. We find such an acute and sensitive critic as Sir Walter Armstrong declaring that 'Barry's character was detestable and his genius was complosed of nine parts vanity and one part talent.' There are grounds for these strictures, yet the judgment is too sweeping; for his character was in many ways most noble, his talents indisputable and his career one of the most tragic in the history of art."

Thomas Bodkin, "James Barry," Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 89, no. 4576 (13 December 1940): 35.