James Barry (1741-1806)

b. 11 Oct. 1741, Water Lane, Cork; son of a shipmaster; at first sailed with his father but turned to painting; ed. [Robert] West’s Academy in Dublin; his “Conversion by St Patrick of the King of Cashel” was the first painting to deal with Irish historical subject matter and won him a premium, gaining him the attention of Edmund Burke, whom he portrayed as Cato in a celebrated picture and later in “Ulysses and a Companion”, with himself in the lesser role; invited to London by Edmund Burke, 1763 [var. 1764], who introduced him to Reynolds, Athenian Stewart, and others, while supplying an allowance for four years study in Rome, 1765-71 and a visit to Paris; earned membership of Clementine Academy in Bologna with his “Philoctetes on the Isle of Lemnos”;
returned to England 1770; exhibited “Adam & Eve” at the Royal Academy, London, 1771-76; secured Assoc. Membership of the RA with “Venus Rising from the Waves” (1772); became full MRA, 1773; published Inquiry into Obstructions to Arts in England (1775), a reply to Winckelmann demolishing his theory that the genius of England is limited by its climate; founding member of RHA (Dublin); decorated without payment the Great Room of the [Royal] Society for the Encouragement of the Arts [RSA] in the Adelphi 1777-83, composing six-part series of large mural-paintings illustrating the The Progress of Human Culture [var. Knowledge] in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts (London), living during this time on bread and apples, while sketching for engravers at night; accused the RSA of burglering his house;
published several engravings; voted 250 guineas and the Society’s Gold Medal; RA professor of painting, 1782; invited to paint scenes for John Boydell’s ‘Shakespeare Gallery’, his few portraits acknowledged to be of very high quality; expelled from Royal Academy in consequence of continuing quarrels with academicians, 1799 - and was defended by William Blake; supported the Act of Union and the tributary role of Ireland; lived in poverty until 1805 when Ł1,000 from the Society of Arts secured an annuity, but did not live to receive the first payment, d. 22 Feb; buried St. Paul’s; his major works long-disparaged as ‘graceless bombast’ (Julian Bell) but now counted as the creator of the neo-classical style of in English public painting; he is said to have been a profound influence on William Blake; subject of revival exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1983, resulting in a positive reappraisal of the work of this ‘notoriously belligerent personality’. RR ODNB DIB BREF WJM RIA

[ The article on James Barry (1741-1806) in the in Dictionary of Irish Biography (RA 2009) is by Peter Murray - online.]

See ..
A Gallery of the Works of James Barry

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Paintings (selected titles), “Baptism of Aongus King of Munster”, “Venus Rising from the Sea”, “Medea Making Her Incantations”, “Aeneas Escaping with His Family from the Sack of Troy”; “The Education of Achilles”, “Narcissus”, “Jupiter and Juno”, “Mercury Inventing the Lyre”, “The Death of Adonis”, “Horatio Presenting his Son to the People”, and “The Creation of Pandora”, “The Distribution of the Premiums”, “Death of General Wolfe”, “Prince of Wales”, “Northumberland”, “Edward Hooper”, “Ulysses and a Companion”, and “The Progress of Human Culture”.

Writings, Inquiry into Obstructions to Arts in England (1775); E. Fryer, ed., The Works of James Barry, Esq., Historical Painter, 2 vols. (London 1809) [see details].

The Correspondence of James Barry, edited online by Tim McLoughlin at Texte (based at Galway University/NUI Galway, incorporates all the known correspondence of the Irish painter [online; access unavailable at 11.06.2010].

The Works of James Barry, Esq.: Historical Painter ... containing, his correspondence from France and Italy with Mr. Burke; his lectures on painting delivered at the Royal-Academy; observations on different works of art in Italy and France; critical remarks on the principal paintings of the Orleans Gallery; essay on the subject of Pandora [...]; And his inquiry into the causes which have obstructed the progress of the fine arts in England; his account of the paintings at the Adelphi; and letter to the Dilettanti Society: To which is prefixed, Some account of the life and writings of the author: In two volumes [2 vols.] (London: Printed by J. M'Creery [...] For T. Cadell and W. Davies [...] 1809), ill. [ports.], 29 cm. [4°].

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Full-length studies
  • Tom Dunne & William L. Pressly, ed., James Barry, 1741-1806: History Painter (Farnham: Ashgate 2010), 268pp. [available at Amazon - online; see also review - infra]
Articles & commentary
  • Patrick Kennedy, The Book of Modern Irish Anecdotes: Humour, Wit and Wisdom (Dublin: Gill, 1897) [see extract].
  • D. Irwin, English Neo-Classical Art (London 1966), pp.38-43.
  • J. White, ‘Irish Romantic Painting’, Apollo, 84 (1966), pp.276-79.
  • Anne O. Cruikshank & the Knight of Glin [Desmond Fitzgerald], Irish Portraits 1600-1860 (London: Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, 1969) [see extract].
  • William L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry (Yale: Paul Mellen Center 1981), 320pp; index.
  • W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (Dublin: IAP 1976) [infra].
  • Tom Dunne, ed., James Barry (1741-1806): “The Great Historical Painter” (Crawford Municipal Art Gallery/Gandon 2005). 144pp. [see extract]
  • William L. Pressly, James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning A New Public Art (Cork UP 2014), 396pp., ill.

See also entry by Luke Gibbons, in W. J. McCormack, ed., Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture (1999; 2001). For Burke’s influence on Barry, see R. R. Wark, Journal of the Warburg Inst., xvii (1954), pp.382-84; Michael Wynne, ‘Reflections on “Art and Oratory”’, Éire-Ireland, 5, 2 (Summer 1970), pp.95-102; Stanley Ayling, Edmund Burke: His Life and Opinions (London: John Murray 1988) [infra].

Note: Anthony Pasquin’s entry on James Barry in An Authentic History of the Professors of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Ireland (1796) is reprinted in Fintan Cullen, Ed., Sources in Irish Art: A Reader (Cork UP 2000).

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Patrick Kennedy, The Book of Modern Irish Anecdotes: Humour, Wit and Wisdom (Dublin: Gill, 1897), p.55, gives account of ‘Some of Barry’s Eccentricities’, recounting his first meeting with Burke when his Baptism of Aongus King of Munster was brought to Dublin to show in the RDS. In ensuing remarks on his time in London and his separation from the academy, his dirty habits in his worst - that is his noblest - times are reported by Southey. The reader is referred to Gilbert’s ‘Streets of Dublin’, Irish Quarterly Review, No. 10 (1852).

Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica; or, Biographical Dictionary of Irish Worthies [...], Vol. I (London & Dublin 1819), pp.58-74 - placing much emphasis on his assertion in a letter to Dr. Hughes: “My hopes are grounded, in a most unwearied intense application; I every day centre more and more upon my art; I give myself totally to it, and, except honour and conscience, am determined to renounce everything else.” We hear that he ‘had a choice of religion’ since his father was Protestant and his mother Catholic, and that he was rescued from the ‘gulph of infidelity’ by Edmund Burke who thrust a copy of Butler’s Analogy of Religion into his hands. A good deal of space is lavished on his ‘natrural irritability’ and the disorder of his domestic life and a lithograph of his house at Oxford Market is included in the chapter as the sole such illustration in the book (facing p.66). The narrative includes a meeting with Burke:

‘Sauntering one day alone in St. James’s Park, he accidentally met Burke, who accosted him in a most kind and friendly manner; expressing much pleasure on seeing him, and gently chiding him for not having called to see him for so many years. Barry, with great freedom and cheerfulness, recognised their old acquaintance and friendship in earlier years; but he said it was a maxim with him whet atty of his old friends soared into regions so far above his sphere, seldom to trouble them with his visits or obsolete recollections; he considered therefore his old friend Burke, as now too great a man for intercourse with a groundling like himself.. Mr. Burke, rather hurt at this unmerited taunt, (for no man was less proud, more kind, or assumed so little on the score of rank and talents,) pressed Barry to a friendly visit at his house: but Barry insisted off precedence in the march of hospitality, and invited the statesman to come next day, and take with him a friendly beef-steak, at his house in Little St. Martin’s Lane; to which Mr. Burke agreed, and kept his appointment. When he rapped at the door, however, Dame Ursula who opened it, at first denied that her master was at home; but on Mr. Burke’s expressing some surprise and announcing his name, Barry overheard his voice, and ran down stairs in the usual triai of abstracted genius, utterly regardless of his personal appearance: his scanty grey hair, unconscious of the comb, sported in disordered ringlets round his head; a greasy green silk shade over his eyes, served as air auxiliary to a pair of horn-mounted spectacles, to strengthen his vision. His linen was none of the whitest, and a sort of roquelaure served the purposes of {72} a robe de chambre; but it was of the composite order, for it was neither jockey-coat, surtout, pelisse, nor tunic, but a mixture of all four; and the chronology of it might have puzzled. the Society of Antiquarians to develop. After a welcome greeting, he conducted his eloquent countryman to his dwelling-room on the first floor, which served him for kitchen, parlour, study, gallery, and painting room; but it was at that moment so befogged with smoke, as almost to suffocate its phthisicky owner, and was quite impervious to the rays of vision. Barry apologized; d—d the bungling chimney doctors; hoped the smoke would clear up, as soon as the fire burned bright; and was quite at a loss to account for “such an infernal smother,” until Mr. Burke, with some difficulty convinced him he was himself the cause: for, in order to remedy the errors of his chimney, he had removed the old stove grate from the fire-place into the centre of the room, where it was sustained by a large old dripping pan, by way of a platform, to save the carpet from ignition; and he had been occupied for half an hour with the bellows to cheer up the coals toa blaze. He was now prevailed on to assist his guest in removing the grate to its proper situation, and the windows being thrown open, the smoke soon vanished. He now proceeded to conduct his guest to see his pictures in certain apartments on the higher story, where many exquisite pieces without frames, stood edgewise on the floor, with their fronts to the walls, to guard them from injury; and by the aid of a sponge and water, their coats of dust were removed, and their beauties developed, much to the delight of the guest. - Having lectured con amore upon the history and merits of the paintings, his next object was to display to his guest the economy of his bed-room: the walls of this apartment, too, were occupied by frameless pictures, veiled in perennial dust, which was likewise sponged off, to develop their beauties, and display some first-rate gems of the art. In a sort of recess between the fire-place and the wall, stood a stump bedstead {73} without curtains, and counterpaned by a rug, bearing all the vestiges of long and arduous service, and tinted only by the accumulated soil of half a century, which no scourer’s hand had ever prophaned., “That, Sir,” said the artist, “is my bed; I use no curtains, because they are unwholesome, and [ breathe more freely, and sleep as soundly as if, reposed on down, and snored under. velvet. - But there, my friend,” continued he, pointing to a broad shelf, fixed high above the bed, and fortified on three sides by the walls of the recess, “that is my chef-d’oeuvre. - Ecod I have outdone them at last.” - ‘“Out-done whom?” said Mr. Burke. - ” The rats, the d - - d rats, my dear friend,” replied Barry, rubbing his palms in ecstacy, “they beat me out of every other security in the house - could not keep any thing for them, in’ cupboard or closet; they devoured my cold meat, and bread and cheese, and bacon: but there they. are now, you see, all safe and snug, in defiance of all the rats in the parish.” Mr. Burke could not do less than highly commend his invention, and congratulate him on its success. They now descended to the first room; Barry, whose only clock was his stomach, felt it was his dinner hour, but totally forgot his invitation, until Mr. Burke reminded him of it: “Ods-oh! my dear friend,” said he, “I beg your pardon: so I did invite you, and it totally escaped my memory: but if you will sit down here and blow the fire, I'll step out and get a charming . beef-steak in a minute.” Mr. Burke took the bellows to cheer up the fire - and Barry his departure to cater for the banquet. And shortly after, he returned with a comely beef-steak, enveloped in cabbage leaves, crammed into one pocket; the other was filled with potatoes; under each arm was 2 bottle of port, procured at Slaughter’s coffee-house; and in each hand a French brick. An antique gridiron was placed on the fire, and Mr. Burke performed the office of cook; while Barry as butler, set the table, which he covered with a table cloth, perfectly geographical; for ‘the stains of former soups and gravies had given it the {74} appearance of a Map of the World. The knives and forks were veterans brigaded from different sets, for no two of them wore the same uniform, in blades, handles, or shapes. Dame Ursula cooked the potatoes in Tipperarian perfection, and by five o’clock, the hungry friends sat down like Eneas and Achates to make a hearty meal: after having dispatched the “;pinguem ferinam,” they whiled away the time till nine o’clock, over their two flaggons “veteris Bacchi,” -

“And jok’d, and laugh’d, and talk’d of former times.”

Mr. Burke has often been heard to declare, that this was one of the most amusing and delightful days of his whole life.’ (pp.71-74.)

See full-text copy of Biog. Hibernica I in RICORSO Library > Criticism > Legacy - via index, or as attached.

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; this edn. 1984), p.123f., remarks that James Barry was an enthusiastic student of classical models, his paintings “Philoctetes in the Isle of Lemnos” being inspired by a Greek epigram on Parrhasius’s treatment of the same theme and influenced by the Farnese Hercules and the Belvedere torso. Stanford holds that Barry had a special sympathy with the story of the origins of Man’s ills and weaknesses in that story, in view of his own. Barry painted himself into his pictures. In “Ulysses and a Companion Escaping from the Cave of Polyphemus”” [now in Crawford Art Gallery, Cork], Burke’s head is on Ulysses and Barry’s on the companion. Barry also appeared as the Greek painter Timanthes among the figures in his “Victors at Olympia”; and again in “The Cyclops and the Satyrs” [now in National Gallery of Ireland]. His most elaborate work was a series of mural paintings in 1777-83 for the Royal Society of Arts in London, entitled “The Progress of Human Culture”, it included Orpheus, Ceres & Bacchus in a Greek harvest-home, crowing of Olympic victors in the presence of Hiero of Syracuse, Diagorus of Rhodes, Cimon, Pericles, Herodotus, Socrates and again Barry portrayed as Timanthes. The final scene represents ancient and modern benefactors of mankind at Elysium, among them William Molyneux, near to Marcus Brutus. [123] Stanford further remarks that Barry had an enormous admiration for classical antiquity, and quotes remarks characterising his aesthetic taste. [ See further in Quotations, infra.]

Anne Cruikshank & [Desmond Fitzgerald] the Knight of Glin, Irish Portraits 1600-1860 (London: Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, 1969) [catalogue], remark that Barry would have hated to be included in an exhibition of portraiture: ‘Subscribing to the superiority of history-painting he felt portraiture to be an infinitely inferior art form [but] produced some magnificent pictures varying from the grand full-length the Duke of Northumberland to brilliant romantic self-portrait in NGI. [&c.]’ (p.19). Cruickshank and Glin further conjecture that Barry, in writing that ‘The Moderns, with all their vapouring, have invented nothing, not even in the most trifling articles of convenient household utensils ... is there anything new in the world?’ may have been influenced by Daniel Webb, whose comparable remarks in An Enquiry into the Beauties of Painting (1760) he is known to have read. They further remark that Barry, a creator of neo-classical style in subject pictures later distilled his grand manner into simpler, more condensed genre of portrait painting - the latter considered his greatest achievement. Works cited include “The Distribution of the Premiums” [at RSA]; “Prince of Wales”; “Northumberland”; “Edward Hooper”; “Ulysses and a Companion” and “The Progress of Human Culture” (pp.52-53).

Stanley Ayling, Edmund Burke: His Life and Opinions (London: John Murray 1988), on Burke’s patronage of James Barry, whom he agreed with William to send to France and Italy; cites letter from William encouraging the plan of contribute to ‘another friend of worth and merit’; and Burke’s letter to Barry in Paris (Spring 1765) advising on diet [‘Singularity in diet is in general, I believe, unwholesome; your friend the doctor [Nugent] is that way of thinking ... Until you draw beauty to the last degree of truth and precision, you will not consider yourself possessed of [the powers of a true artist] ... Let me entreat you to go through a full course of anatomy, with the knife in your hand ...’ (Quoting Barry, Works, I, pp.53-55; Ayling, op. cit., q.p.)

Tom Dunne, ed., James Barry, 1741-1806 (Crawford Gallery/Gandon Edns. 1005) - prospectus: ‘James Barry remains the most ambitious, controversial and important painter that Ireland has produced. But this Cork-born artist was also a neoclassical painter of major international significance, although not often given his due as such. His reputation for eccentricity, for extreme political views, for intemperate and paranoid confrontations with the art establishment, still overshadows his considerable achievements as an artist. Furthermore, his output was comparatively small, with only 38 known canvases surviving, and while six are very large and constitute a remarkable series on The Progress of Human Culture in the Great Room of the Adelphi headquarters of the (Royal) Society of Arts, these have never been on public display, except briefly in 1782 and 1783. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1772 and 1776 only, after which he showed two major paintings in London, in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery. After his death in 1806, his work virtually disappeared from view. The grand style of History painting, to which he had dedicated his life - swimming against the artistic tide even in his own day - became ever more marginalised, as British art developed on very different lines. / For the most part, however, Barry has been remarkably little known or appreciated in his native city or country. He left Cork in 1760, and Ireland in 1764, still unformed as an artist, and never to return. Yet Cork and his family shaped him in crucial and enduring ways. This book gives the reader an opportunity to enjoy and understand better the work of one of Ireland’s greatest artists. Barry’s art aimed to be international and universal, grounded as it was not only in the Renaissance masters he most admired - Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian - but even more in classical Greek painting, long lost and known only from writings, and shadowed for him in Roman copies of Greek sculptures. What he told his first and most important patron, Edmund Burke, while still a student in Rome remained true all his life: “My thoughts, day and night, run on nothing else but the antique.” His ideal, he wrote years later, consisted in ’uniting the Grecian with the Italian art”.’

Muriel Adrien, review of Tom Dunne & William L. Pressly, James Barry, 1741-1806: History Painter, in Miranda, Review pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone/Interdisciplinary review of the Anglophone world (5: 2010): ‘Despite the four books James Barry (1741-1806) authored, and despite his reputation as Britain’s greatest history painter, his achievements were given scant attention until the second half of the twentieth century. One of the reasons may be that his oeuvre is sophisticated and limited (33 pictures), including six murals, which of course cannot be traded on the art market. But this edited collection lifts the veil on many other aspects of Barry's career, suggesting why his work has long remained neglected. The bicentennial of his death in 2006 was the opportunity to engage with his art anew through a major exhibit in Cork, Ireland, Barry’s hometown, and new research by Pressly on Barry’s magnum opus, The Adelphi series. This edited volume publishes the conference papers given on the occasion of the bicentennial Cork exhibition and offers much needed scholarship on an overlooked artist, given the quality of his ambitious oeuvre. / In an introductory chapter, Tom Dunne says that Barry was a much more radical and fervent believer in the genre of history painting than Reynolds was himself, and he loudly resented the national development of lesser genres at the expense of the grand style. Barry severely criticized Reynolds for abandoning high art in favour of lukewarm and debased commercial painting, although he did take up with him again later. His uncompromising attitude accounts for his expulsion from the Royal Academy in 1799. Barry commended the ideal classical Greek model, thinking the values it conveyed would transform society into a “republic of taste”. His Progress of Human Culture encoded a pro-Catholic subtext for which he later felt the need to provide an explanation. This unswerving commitment put him at odds with the adverse British art world whose market was sustained by other genres. Dunne then mentions how Michael Phillips shed new light on Barry as printmaker. Barry’s radicalism and principled temperament owed him the admiration of Blake, as well as his Fuseli-like attraction for Miltonic themes of exile and expulsion. But Fuseli was more cynical and pragmatic than Barry who remained ever the vocal staunch idealist. [...]’ (Review treats of each chapter in turn; see full-text copy at RICORSO > Library > Criticism > Reviews - infra; or in separate window.

Thomas McCarthy, “Self-Portrait as Timanthes”, in Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art, ed. Janet McLean [1850-1950 Curator at National Gallery of Ireland] (London: Thames & Hudson 2014), pp.131-35: ‘All through the 1990s each train journey I made because a pilgrimage to this one painting I visited Dublin regularly to attend board meetings at Poetry Ireland, a national organisation that was then expanding its influence under its revolutionary director, the poet Theo Dorgan. [...] We must all stand back from work and feel ashamed that we have not done more for art and truth. Scholars have construed the loosened black ribbon on Barry"s neck as the shadow of the guillotine, the fate that awaits all counter-revolutionaries. I beg to [131] disagree. I’ve never thought that. Surely it is art unbuttoned, bindings loosened, the break of life upon an exposed neck. [... / ...] This is a deeply personal work of art; it is full of yearning and human wariness. It is very much a metaphor for an artistic life of any kind. And it doesn’t have a citizenship or a religion: we are all hunted, as Timanthes was, and we all all nervously awaiting our destiny, as Barry constantly was. I feel for him and I feel for this painting because I know his luck ran out several times. I still love to come upon it. It speas to me of mnay lost connections and that foolish yearning to hurry up and finish some all-consuming work of art. / This painting is one of the gems of our National Gallery It is worth taking any long journey to coe upon this triumph of antiquity and revolution, of political camouflage and artistic nakedness. When I stand by this painting my resolve as a poet stiffs and my political faith in the artistic life is restored completely.’ [End; for longer extract, see under McCarthy - as infra.]

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Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Vol. 1 (1819), pp.58-74; includes a long account of Barry and a lithographical sketch of his exceedingly tumble-down terrace house at Castle St. Oxford Market ( ascribed to J. Bryant del.) and is the sole illustration in the work other than the frontispiece of J. P. Curran. This is one of Ryan’s longest articles and is replete with descriptions of character and manner including an account of his changing friendship with Edmund Burke.

See “James Barry”, in Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies, Vol. I [of 2] (London & Dublin 1819) in RICORSO > Library > Criticism > History > Legacy - via index, or as attached.

Note: the same print is incl. in William L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry (Yale: Paul Mellen Center 1981), where it is called ‘The House of James Barry’, in pencil and gray wash, by Joshua Bryant, the original being held in Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, together with a ‘study of’ portrait of Burke (pl.).

Brian de Breffny, ed., A Cultural Encyclopaedia of Ireland (London: Thames & Hudson [1982], reproduced a detail from “The Trinity of Modern Commerce” p.40).

Note that Barry’s Wedding“ of Strongbow and Aoife” serves as an illustration in D. A. Chart’s The Story of Dublin [Medieval Towns ser.] (London: Dent 1907), facing p.17.

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Vapouring [upon visiting Herculaneum]: ‘The moderns, with all their vapouring, have invented nothing, have improved nothing, not even in the most trifling articles of convenient household utensils.’ (The Works of James Barry, Esq., Historical Painter, Vol. 1, p.110; quoted in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, Dublin: IAP 1976, p.124.)

Sage Greeks: ‘[I]t must be allowed that at least the Greek artists selected with great sagacity and genius all that specific configuration of parts which, in their complete perfect union, were best adapted to impress on the mind of the spectator an idea of that particular attribute, the perfection of which they had appropriated to each of those partitions or gods into which they had mistakenly divided the Divine Essence. To this procedure of the Grecian artists, however erroneous as to theology, we are notwithstanding indebted for such a reform, such amelioration of all the arts that had been handed down to this ingenious people from their Egyptian and Asiatic predecessors, as can never be overrated.’ (“Essay Upon the Pandora Myth”; Works, Vol. 1. pp.148-49; Stanford, op. cit., 1976, idem.)

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Romance: A romantic self-portrait of Barry held in the National Gallery of Ireland appears on the dustjacket of the New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse, ed. Jerome J. McGann.

Pers. dram: James Barry appears in the novel Merchant Prince (2005) by Thomas McCarthy whose central character meets the painter in Rome while studying for the priesthood there.

Kith & Kin: James Barry, MD (1792-1865), born Margaret Ann Bulkley, in Cork, and trained in medicine in Edinburgh on the pretense that she was a prococious young man, afterwards a successful British Army surgeon and an respected innovator in medical hygiene who was revealed to be a man only at her death - and, finally, the joint-subject with Florence Nightingale of Whistling Psyche (2004), a play by Sebastian Barry [q.v. - see under Notes, supra].

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