The landscape painter George Barret (c. 1730-1784), who was born in the Liberties of Dublin, the son of a clothier, was initially apprenticed to a stay-make before going to the Dublin Society schools under Robert West, where he developed his artistic talent. Barret's work shows the influence of the writings of James Burke, particularly his book A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, published in 1757. Long before the period of Impressionism, Burke exhorted artists to paint from nature rather than copy from other artists such as Claude Lorraine or Poussin, and to introduce elements of the sublime into their art. By 1763, when Barret left Ireland to work in London, he had established a considerable reputation for himself as a landscape painter. The patronage of the 2nd Viscount Powerscourt had enabled him to paint some of the most romantic reaches of the Dargle Valley, as well as the celebrated Powersourt waterfall itself. Once in London, Barret seems to have been drawn almost immediately to the artistic possibilities presented by the rugged scenery of Wales which evidently chimed with his fascination for the Sublime. As early as 1765, Barret's fellow Irishman and artist James Barry (1741-1806) urged him in a letter to visit Paris, commenting that it would be no more expensive than going to North Wales, suggesting Barret was already well acquainted with Wales, and before Barry left England for Ireland that year, he also mentioned having seen a view of Snowdon by the artist (J. Barry, Works, vol I p. 37).
Barry, who had seen Barret's premium-winning landscape at the Free Society's exhibition in London in 1764, writing to his patron Dr. Fenn Sleigh, praised Barret's work:
'My friend and countryman Barret does no small honour to landscape painting amongst us; I have seen nothing to match with his last year's premium picture. It has discovered to me a very great want in the aerial part of my favourite Claude's performances. You know his skies are clear and uniform, without object, except now and then a small light cloud skirting in his horizon or zenith: while Barret presents you with such a glorious assemblage, as I have sometimes seen amongst high mountains rising into unusual agreeable appearances, whilst the early beams of the sun sport themselves, if you will allow the expression, through the vast arcades, and sometimes glance on a remote farm-house or great lake, whose ascending vapours spread themselves like a veil over the distance.' (J. Barry, Works, Vol. I, p. 16).
As Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin have observed, Barret's appreciation of North Wales was probably influenced by the similarity of its landscape to that of Ireland and in his interest in the scenery of Wales he was 'in the forefront of of the discovery of the Welsh picturesque' (op.cit., 2002, p. 135). In this dramatic landscape, with its foreboding mountainous scenery, partly shrouded in mists that are dissolving with the rise of the early morning sun, Barret distills his fascination for everything that is Sublime in nature. The loneliness and sublimity of the scene are accentuated by the fact that there are no human figures, only a couple of Welsh mountain goats.
We are grateful to Peter Murray, of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, for his assistance with this catalogue entry.