Sojourn at Rome and the Painting of History

Edmund Burke and his brother, Richard, had such faith in Barry's greatness that they funded his journey onward to Paris and Rome. Barry left London in 1765 and spent nearly a year in Paris, studying the highly disciplined painting of Le Sueur and Poussin and attending life classes at the Academie de St Lue. Barry copied Alexander drinking the potion by Le Sueur for Edmund Burke. He arrived in Rome in late 1766 and set out at once to work, study, and criticize. He copied the Old Masters and sketched the nude (at the French Academy or at the Accademia del Nudo in the Capitaline, according to the scholar William Pressly. Dr Pressly also observes that Barry made an incredibly detailed assessment of the art he saw on the Continent: "He was also very well read and these facts imbue his art with an intellectualism rare anywhere and unprecedented in an Irish artist"). While in Rome he completed only one picture, The Temptation of Adam or Adam and Eve, subsequently exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771, later at the Great Exhibition of 1903 in Cork, and during the huge James Barry exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in Cork in 2005. The painting now hangs permanently in the National Gallery of Ireland as a gift from The Royal Society of Arts, London.

Barry made enemies while in Rome. He fought with the resident English and Irish painters and with the dishonest dealers who preyed on the ignorant visiting noblemen. He was even aggressive and dismissive towards visiting English lords and gentry who might have become in future years the purchasers of his work. His attitude in Rome was to have serious consequences for his career. From Rome he also travelled south to Naples and sketched the countryside.

On his return journey from Rome he visited Florence and Bologna. While in Bologna he painted Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos (1770) and became a member of the Clementine Academy. But it was while in Italy, having studied at first hand the Classical and the Antique, that the firm principles of James Barry's mind were established. He came back to London determined to become a great history painter, and nothing less.

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