James Barry was born just a mile away from UCC in Water Lane, Cork and from a fairly humble background he went on to become one of the world’s greatest history painters. His greatest work are the murals at the Royal Society of Arts in London which are now regarded as the British art world’s best kept secret.
“This is a great book. It does more than illuminate the past; it shines a light on our present way of thinking, and not just about culture. At the very least, anyone with an eye will want to look at it – it’s a beautiful object. The illustrations will surprise many into wondering why it is they are seeing Cork-born James Barry’s masterpieces for the first time. Part of the explanation is practical: the works are in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London and not easily accessible to the public. An increased demand for access, though it might create a problem for the RSA, would be a sign that William L Pressly’s book has had an influence beyond the academy.
It is impossible to describe in this space the complexity of the paintings. Even Pressly, with 396 pages at his disposal, leaves some doors half-opened. More remains to be said, for instance, about Barry’s portrait of his patron and fellow Corkman Edmund Burke, a relationship that became tragic as Barry moved to the radical left.—Brian Lynch, The Irish Times