Barry constantly drew throughout his life, but the number of surviving drawings is small. Peter Murray in his essay ‘Barry’s Drawings’, T. Dunne (ed.) James Barry, op. cit., p. 199 remarks that ‘of the more than 200 nude studies recorded in the 1807 sale of his studio collection, only a dozen or so survive’. The present drawing is one of these rare survivors. For the most part Barry’s drawings were used as a means of developing ideas for paintings or prints, but here is a rare study from life. Barry was in the habit of working alongside his pupils in the life classes at the Royal Academy, where he was Professor of Painting for seventeen years before he was expelled in 1799.
For this unusually large and striking drawing Barry has employed bold cross-hatching with white chalk applied to accentuate the highlights. This technique for rendering highlights and shadows is particularly evident in his haunting self-portraits (Royal Society of Arts, London, see Dunne, op.cit., pp. 208-9). In the course of his lectures at the Royal Academy, Barry expanded on the importance of drawing, which was the foundation of painting and without which a canvas was just a ‘confused daubing’ of colours. ‘Drawing only can give a faithful representation of all those visible fluctuations of figure which result from the wonderful combinations of muscles, tendons, and bone, by which the animal functions are performed, exhibiting in the several limbs and parts, the exact degree of effort, proportioned to action and occasion and by which the inclinations and emotions of the soul are visibly imprinted in the countenance and gesture’, J. Barry, The Works Of James Barry, Esq., 1809, p. 416. The accurate depiction of the human body was of key importance to Barry, who expounded in his lectures that 'The faithful spirited delineation of these characteristic essentials which require an intimate acquaintance with the anatomical construction, has been almost always overlooked when this anatomical skill was wanting; without it an artist cannot even see what is befor [sic] him, and he will unavoidably trifle away his assiduity upon the minute corrugations of the mere external surface…’
The present drawing is arguably the finest surviving example of Barry’s consummate skill at capturing the human form and depicting form and volume by the careful use of pen and ink hatching.
We are grateful to Martin Butlin for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.