Letter from JAMES BARRY to DUKE OF RICHMOND, written 29 August 1773, at London

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 240-42.

Fryer's text has a line of asterisks between the penultimate and the final paragraphs of the text which suggests he omitted a portion of the original letter.

Charles Lennox (1735-1806), 3rd Duke of Richmond, founder member of the Society of Arts (1754), a friend and political ally of Edmund Burke, a patron of the arts and a member of the Dilettanti Society since 1765. He had commissioned Barry to paint Antiochus and Stratonice. Richmond House in Whitehall had its own art gallery and classical sculptures in the garden. Richmond opened these to interested artists: among those who studied there was the young William Blake, later a pupil of Barry's at the Royal Academy (Peter Ackroyd, Blake (London, 1995), p. 27). In 1758 Richmond started a drawing school there under the painter G.B.Cipriani and the sculptor J. Wilton (Lionel Cust, History of the Society of Dilettanti (London, 1914), p. 58 and James Fenton, School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of Arts (London, 2006), p. 97).

Barry was elected a full member of the Royal Academy on 9 February 1773; this letter is written on the day he was formally admitted at a General Assembly of the Academy.

Full display

My Lord,

I have pretty well satisfied myself with the picture of Stratonice,1 and have laid it by without varnishing till your Grace comes to town, as something might then be discovered that has escaped me. Since I had last the honour of seeing your Grace, I have been received into the academy with all due form.2

We are to have a meeting next Saturday about the ornamenting of St. Paul's church.3 The dean4 and chapter having already agreed to leave this matter to the academy, it now rests with us to give permission to such painters, and as many as we shall think qualified, to execute at their own expense, historical pictures of a certain size, I believe from fifteen to twenty feet high.5 We also intend to set up a monument there: Pope6 is mentioned; for which, as this is likely to be a heavier7 job, the sculptor is to be paid by a subscription, and a benefit from the play-house. The placing of these pictures and monument, and all the pictures and monuments that may be hereafter set up there, are to be solely entrusted to the academy, who will appoint a committee (if I call it right) tor that particular business.

I proposed this matter to the academicians about a year since, a little after my being admitted an associate,8 and I had long set my heart upon it, as the only means of establishing a solid, manly taste for real art9 in the place of our trifling, contemptible passion for the daubing of little inconsequential things, portraits of dogs, landscapes, &c.—Things, in which the mind which is the soul of true art having no concern, that have hitherto only served to disgrace us all over Europe.10

Whether this scheme may be attended with the desired success is, I am afraid, rather doubtful:11 even I foresee some difficulties in it; but if it should not, there will be little to value in any reputation that may be acquired by art: if that which would wear well will not be worn, that which is worn, I am sure, will not wear. Indeed, my Lord, when I suffer my thoughts to wander ever so little, they bring back something of despondency with them. I have taken great pains to form myself for this kind of Quixotism;12 to this end I have contracted and simplified my cravings and wants, and brought them into a very narrow compass.13

My finances are pretty low at present, therefore, if your Grace should think proper to send me any part of the price of the picture, it would come very opportunely. I count upon six figures in it, and I had twenty guineas a figure for the picture I sold to Mr. Palmer14, of the Chiron and Achilles,* 15 which was of the same size.16 If your Grace should not much like the picture, do not take it, as I hope to have something else by your arrival in town, that you may like better, and if I have not, I will endeavour to make it. I have the honour to be, your Grace's most obedient, and most humble servant,

J. Barry.

August 29, 1773.