This mezzotint, produced by an unknown engraver about 1802, shows what, in The Life and Art of James Barry, the artist’s biographer William L Pressly called ‘his crumpled face’.
Barry, born in Cork the son of a builder, was a famously difficult man. Three years earlier, in 1799, he had been stripped of his position as Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy and in his final years was close to poverty stricken. His world-weary face is an epoch away from Barry’s much better-known self-portrait of a fresh-faced Enlightenment painter, now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
The first of these two 19 x 13in (48 x 33cm) impressions was a heavily inked print taken before corrections were made to the jacket, areas surrounding the hair, and most prominently the drapery behind the artist. The auctioneers were unable to find a comparative state at auction, or a copy held within an institution.
Estimated to bring £5000-7000 at the Battersea ‘live online’ event on March 24, it took £19,000 (plus 25% premium).
A version of the finished print was also included for sale. This version included an extensive ink inscription that references Barry's recent trials and tribulations. It reads: ‘Barry Fecit, James Barry Esq. late PP & RA of the Royal Academy and member of Clementine Academy at Bologna’.
A similar inscription (that may be in Barry’s hand) appears to another copy of the print held in the British Museum.
The last copy the auctioneers could trace of this state had been sold at Sotheby’s back in 1988 for £6380, making this example (with minor spotting and handling creases) an attractive proposition at £2000-3000.
It sold at £11,000.