James Barry's Last Years


In later years Barry did produce a number of important paintings, such as King Lear Weeping over the Body of Cordelia (1786/87) and The Birth of Pandora (1804), but he spent most of his days engaged in print-making and polemics. Sometimes both print-making and political argument came together, as in his print The Phoenix, or, The Resurrection of Freedom that was clearly a celebration of America's independence struggle.

He had his own press in his squalid house and experimented in lithography, engraving, aquatint and etching. Then, in 1798, an unfortunate time for any Irishman at work in London, he published A letter to the Dillettanti Society, appealing to that society to compensate for the failures of the Royal Academy. He had already attacked the R.A. in his lectures on painting. He was expelled from the Royal Academy, the King himself, it is said, drawing the ink-line across his name in the membership roll.




Barry's life deteriorated rapidly after his expulsion. He had very little money, claiming in a letter to the Earl of Buchan that he had an income of only 60 a year out of which he paid rent of 40. His home at 36 Castle Street East, Cavendish Square, was squalid, with broken windows and peeling paintwork. Street urchins threw stones at the property regularly and Barry moved into the back room, convinced that his many enemies in the Academy were trying to assassinate him. Having collapsed a number of times since 1803, he died at the home of the architect Bonomi, on 22 February 1806.

His body lay in state in the Great Room of the Society of Arts and he was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral.


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