Source: Anthony Pasquin, Memoirs of the Royal Academicians; being an Attempt to Improve National Taste (London, 1796), pp.125-27.

The following excerpts are taken from an assessment of James Barry by Anthony Pasquin published in his Memoirs of the Royal Academicians (1796). Although Pasquin's account contains a few errors of fact, it gives us a contemporary's view of Barry when he was at the height of his reputation and powers.

For a recent biography of Barry, see David G.C.Allan, James Barry (1741-1806): A Biographical Outline', Cultivating the Human Faculties: James Barry (1741-1806) and the Society of Arts, ed. Susan Bennett (Bethlehem, P.A.: 2008), pp. 23-49.)

More About Barry

JAMES BARRY, R.A. is a native of Cork, in Ireland: he visited the capital of England in his youth, and was professionally introduced to society by Mr.STUART, who was at that period publishing his Views of Athens,1 which were embellished by the virgin pencil of Mr. BARRY. - In the same year he went to Rome, under the protection of the Diletanti,2 and studied in the Vatican and the Italian academies with particular industry. - At his return to Britain, he was warmly patronised by his countryman Mr. EDMUND BURKE, who introduced him to SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS; which laid the corner-stone of his appointment to the Professorship of Painting, to which situation he was elected on the death of Mr. PENNY.3

The most material work Mr. BARRY has exhibited to mankind, are the series of pictures which he painted for the Society of Arts, &c. in the Adelphi;4 they consist of six pictures - The Story of Orpheus, [img] not treated according to poetical metaphor, but represented truly, as the founder of Grecian theology; - A Harvest-Home, or thanksgiving to Ceres and Bacchus; [img] - The Crowning of the Victors at Olympia; [img] - The Triumph of the Thames; [img] - The Distribution of Premiums by the Society, [img] in which are introduced various portraits; - and the last and most perfect is Elysium, or the state of final retribution to the great and good. [img] This picture is a composition of solemn import, and must ever be considered as the emanation of a comprehensive and lettered mind.

Mr. BARRY has recently etched plates from this work, which he published by subscription;5 they are executed with spirit; and though not managed with the flow and force of Marc Antonio,6 are nevertheless very creditable to the talents of their author.

As a Lecture, his manner is awkward, cold, and unimpressive; but his matter is interesting, and fraught with information...

Though Mr. BARRY is, generally speaking, intellectually superior to his brethren, he is not practically so - he appears to me, like Caesar's mother, to conceive too powerfully for the ordinary methods of deliverance.7 - He is often accurate in design, but never absurd; - he has all Michael Angelo's propensities, with a small portion of his strength; - he has more knowledge in his mind than his pencil; - his thought is too ponderous for his mechanism. When he falls lowest, it is in his labour to delineate what constitutes beauty - his ideas are too rebellious to harmony, to admit the calm personification of beauty; its waters are too often ruffled for the purposes of reflection upon genuine loveliness; all his nymphs are Bacchants, and, agreeably to my thought, there can be no female beauty, where the object is devoid of innocence of heart: a consciousness of guilt will destroy harmony in the most alluring combination of features that were ever arranged by nature; inasmuch as it breathes an air of meretriciousness in the gesture, and defiance in the eyes...

He lives in a state of apparent antipathy with the busy world; - compared with the many, he is a recluse; yet, though singular, he is not morose; and no man can be degraded by any habit, that does not make an inroad upon morality, or the well-being of his neighbour. The threshold of his door in Castle-street8 is so little trodden by friendly visitation, that rank blades of grass issue between every stone; and many a vagrant heifer wanders from Oxford-market to browse upon the herbage. He does not hang his peace upon the same hook as his viands.- I believe he has so far sublimed his nature by philosophy, as to despise an extraneous appetite: he allays his hunger and his thirst; but scorns to promote a luxury appertaining to our vile bodies. - His manners are seemingly austere, but radically kind - it is an incrustation on a gem!

Mr. BARRY invited Mr. BURKE a few years since, to dine with him on beef steaks and porter; and literally made Mr. BURKE cook the victuals, while he went to the ale-house for the beer. Perhaps he did this in imitation of Nicholas Poussin, with whom a cardinal dined; and observing that the artist had no servants, the priest was lamenting his situation; when Poussin replied significantly, that he was sorry his eminence had any!9