« السابقةمتابعة »
the Clementini Academy, at Bologna ; Barry returned to England, and at the exhibition of the Royal Academy for 1770, produced his Adam and Eve. This was succeeded during the next year by his Venus Anadyomene, or rising from the sea, a picture which has long, by general consent, ranked at the head of his miscellaneous performances. In 1775 he gave to the world “ An Inquiry into the real and imaginary obstructions to the acquisition of the arts in England;”—a work to the composition of which he was prompted, during his sojourn on the Continent, by the aspersions of different foreign authors upon the mental powers of the Britons. Montesquieu and the Abbé Du Bos had already undertaken to assign limits to the capacity of Englishmen; and the Abbé Winckelman, a critic otherwise remarkable for the correctness of his penetration, now presumed to establish a natural deficiency in their genius, owing to the unfavourable temperature of the climate in which they lived. It is easy to suppose that to succeed in this task was no great matter of difficulty to a man who, like Barry, presented a living example of the absurdity of a doctrine, which would have forced him by argument to admit that his character, practically fiery as possibly could be, was physically dull; and that his fancy, which made him miserable by the vividness of its aspirations, was in truth a clouded faculty of stinted powers. Barry's address was manly, and his reasoning clear; and he reaped an easy harvest of praise by correcting the errors of men whose reputation was more cultivated and extensive than his own.
It was about this time that Barry joined in the memorable proposition of Sir Joshua Reynolds, to decorate the Cathedral of St. Paul's with a set of sacred paintings, and upon the discouragement of the plan, meditated that work which endures as the principal monument of his reputation. This was his voluntary offer to the Society of Arts, to paint for them gratuitously a set of pictures, describing allegorically the rise and progress of civilization among mankind. This elaborate performance, consisting of six heads, was accomplished in seven years, and while the artist was enduring no light anxiety from the narrowness of his income. The two largest of the subjects represent the Victors at the Olympic Games, and Elysium; and are each forty-two feet in length. The other designs comprise, ---Man in his savageness,
A Grecian Harvest Home,-Navigation,-and the Society of Arts. With the disinterested principles upon which this great task was finished, no second effort can be compared ; while the only undertakings of similar magnitude in the country, namely, the painting of the State Hall at Greenwich Hospital, and the Dome of St. Paul's, both by Sir John Thornhill, show Barry, if not possessed of the palm of undisputed superiority, at least, finely gifted with the honours of competition. In short, the execution of the work is as excellent as its kind is uncommon amongst us; its faults are trivial, and lost in the brightness of many beauties ; and the whole is stamped with a character of genius, which will distinguish the name of Barry amongst British artists, while the profession subsists. Illustrative of these subjects, he afterwards published a book, which he inscribed to the Society; and still later began a set of engravings from them, which life was not spared him to complete. This invaluable presentation had no sooner re. ceived its last touches, than the Society elected Barry a perpetual member of their body, and voted him their gold medal, inscribed Eminent Merit, and a donation of two hundred guineas. At the same time, they authorized their great room thus ornamented, to be thrown open as an exhibition to the public, for the benefit of the artist; from which he ultimately derived a profit of about 7001.-a truly moderate return, either for the time thus occupied, or the ability displayed during it.
The matter of the preceding paragraph extends to a late pe. riod of Barry's life, and it therefore becomes necessary, for the sake of an even tenor, to recur to the period about which the prominent event of it originated: this may be dated at about the year 1776. During the course of the next spring, Barry was admitted a royal academician; and in the year 1786 was advanced to the chair of Professor of Painting. As this appointment, combining distinction and emolument in a high degree, was considered the summit of his ambition, so might it be supposed to point the climax of his happiness. But of all earthly consequences the most treacherous of confidence are those depending from civil grandeur; and Barry's elevation produced nothing but difficulties and misfortune. Original and therefore singular in his opinions, he proposed innovations upon the established order of things in the academy, for which he could find but little relish or
support among his associates. The darling change he wished to effect, was to derive a fund out of the receipts from the annual exhibition, with the view of forming a gallery of the antient masters, for the instruction of the pupils. This certainly was a laudable object, and would have been decidedly an improvement; but neither the one consideration nor the other availed the sanguine professor in his designs; and notwithstanding repeated agitations of the subject in various shapes, he always found himself mortified by a refusal. It was not in the nature of a constitution fervid like his, to endure this course of things without a murmur: he began by reproaching the apathy, and reproving the procrastination of his compeers; and at last, as the opposition to his plans grew more pertinacious, broke out into an unmeasured impetuosity of hostile condemnation. Thus from an object of jealousy, hé rose into a rock of obnoxiousness; and as he was not reserved in characterising the conduct of the Academy, so were the members of it, ere long, by no means considerate in their decisions against him. At length in March 1799, the bitter spirit of these altercations effervesced, and a body of charges were preferred to the council against the professor of painting: they were received, and directed to be laid before a special committee. The last meeting upon the question was on the 15th of the following April, when the Academy assembled to receive a report from this committee. Upon that occasion Barry rose, and desired to see a copy of the report. The request was refused ; and he protested with great earnestness, and certainly with apparent reason, against the justice of the whole proceeding. Towards the close of his address, he bluntly declared, that if they acted in this manner, they combined with his enemies; and that if they refused to give him an opportunity of refuting the charges brought against him, he should be ashamed to belong to their body. This sally decided the fate of the day; and the hint with which it concluded was forth with violently forestalled. Two resolutions were immediately passed, by which he was first voted out of the Professor's chair, and then expelled the Academy. One form remained before this strange declaration could be ratified :-it was necessary to lay the proceedings before the King; but the result showed it was one of the emptiest of forms, for his Majesty approved of, the business as a matter of course. On this transaction, or the
circumstances under which it arose and terminated, it seems unnecessary to dilate ; for the pith of it all is briefly stated. Barry was intemperate in words, and the Academy in deeds ;he erred, and they sinned; for what in an individual was the ebullition of an over-sanguine intellect, was in a deliberative association the tyranny of superior power, but inferior capacity.
From this period the existence of Barry passed on without interest or variety: he thought much, and did little. He appeared to live proudly abstracted in the consciousness of unmerited adversity, but with a spirit unbroken by the violence of its strokes. He dwelt alone in a house in Castle-street, Oxford-street, and in all probability, such another residence was neither then known, nor has since been discovered in the metropolis. Having detected two servant-women purloining some of his engraved plates, he forswore the assistance of domestics, and performed every household care with his own hands. By degrees the oddity of these habits became noticed in the neighbourhood; he was set down as an old Jew, and molested with all the obloquy which popular rancour prides itself in heaping on a race, already presumed by Christians to have been for ages marked by the penal hand of Heaven. Thus the door of Barry's house grew plastered with mud; the windows were broken, the walls were mutilated, the area filled with refuse, and the entrance continually crowded by mischievous groups of noisy urchins. To these the approach of the wayward artist was always the welcome signal of abuse and petty riot ; and even when he failed to appear in the street, a glimpse of his person from a window was sufficient to provoke their vociferation. This fidelity of persecution was submitted to with a strange admixture of discontent and patience, but in time it compelled him to forsake the apartments in front of the house entirely. The back-room upon the first floor he therefore used as a workshop :- it was heaped up with books, busts, tools and engravings, in all the glorious uncertainty of generous confusion: the chamber immediately above this served for his sleepingroom; it was furnished only with a common truck bedstead, a miserable pallet, and a couple of kitchen-chairs: the rest of the mansion was given up to dust and the rats. Yet here, in a great loose threadbare coat, a pair of old black breeches, worsted stockings, and huge strong shoes, but with a shirt of the finest texture and cleanest dress, did this extraordinary man put the finishing touches to his celebrated Jupiter and Juno, and paint his own favourite performance, the Pandora. It also was here that he composed the volume descriptive of his paintings at the Society of Arts, and executed all the engravings that are known of his works.
In the solitude of this cold state, there was little to entice the notice of congenial society, and by degrees the circle of Barry's acquaintances was sadly thinned. Still there remained some friends who delighted to fan the lingering brightness of genius, through all the disguises of altered fortune. From these it was not to be concealed, that though his habits were thrifty, and his mode of life the most abstemious, yet that many a privation was forced upon him by the gradual exhaustion of his little property; and that in the course of such things, his last moments must certainly be embittered by utter destitution. To obviate such an accumulation of distress, some zealous members of the Society of Arts, headed by the Earls of Radnor and Buchan, commenced a subscription for him, which soon amounted to 10002. In consideration of this sum, Sir Robert Peel, at a meeting of the subscribers, volunteered to secure Barry an annuity of 1202. during life. But the comforts thus designed, the measure of his existence did not long permit him to enjoy: the subscription began at the close of the year 1805, and in the ensuing February he was seized with a paralysis in the street, and removed in a state of insensibility to the house of his friend Bononi, the artist, in Great Tichfield-street; where soothed by those attentions from which his own neglected domicile must have long estranged him, he expired on the 22d day of the same month.
As soon as this melancholy event was proclaimed, Sir Robert Peel presented the Society of Arts with 2001. out of the 10001. so lately become his own, for the purpose of defraying the expense of a public interment in St. Paul's. In order to give greater effect to the ceremony, a motion was unanimously carried among the members, by which it was resolved, as the last tribute that could be paid to an illustrious artist, by whose labours they had been so nobly benefited, to place his body in state, in the great room of their house in the Adelphi, on the night previous to its interment. On the evening of Thursday the 13th of April, this resolution was put into effect, and few scenes could have inspired a more awful