Sir Claude Francis Barry, Bart.
1) Royal Cornwall Museum Exhibition: 4 February to 4 June 2011
(Courtesy of Sue Bradbury, SBPR Limited and the Royal Cornwall Museum)
Described by one national critic as 'the greatest artist you never heard of', Barry (1883-1970)
was a prolific painter and etcher who spent years working alongside Newlyn School greats
like Stanhope Forbes, Henry Scott Tuke and Norman Garstin at the beginning of the last
century. An early narrative approach to painting gave way to more abstract themes as he
experimented with a range of styles - including the very different schools of Pointillism and
Vorticism. The result is an exciting, very varied portfolio of work that is as memorable as it is
Had it not been for the passion and determination of one man, however, Barry would, in all
likelihood, have remained an unknown. Independently wealthy, he didn't need to sell his art
during his lifetime and, when he died in 1970; he left the bulk of it to his pupil, an
impoverished fellow artist. When solicitor David Capps came across it by chance four years
later, he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I'd answered a newspaper advertisement and ended up buying “Glamorous Night”, one of
Barry's nudes," he explains. "I thought it was stunning and very tasteful and wanted to find
out more about the artist. My research led to an introduction to Tom Skinner, Barry's pupil
and executor, who was living in a cold, damp garret at the time. Propped up against his wall
was a pile of Barry's etchings with condensation pouring down them. I knew I had to buy
them - not for commercial reasons because no-one was buying art as a serious investment in
1974 - but because I loved them."
David's collection has grown to the extent that he now lends some of it to offices, institutions
and schools so that more people can see it. Much of the work on display at the Royal
Cornwall Museum is his and, judging by the number of visitors coming to see the exhibition
and the favourable comment it is attracting from specialists, Barry's name is fast gaining
recognition. Even Charles Saatchi, Jeffery Archer and some very significant galleries are
reported to be fans.
On 4 February 2011, David Capps formally opened “A Master Revealed” at a private view
held at the Royal Cornwall Museum. The exhibition runs until 4 June and entry is free. A
lunchtime talk being given by fine art specialist and BBC Antiques Road show contributor
Michael Newman on 10 March was sold out. The book on Barry entitled 'Moon Behind
Clouds' by Katie Campbell is on sale in the museum foyer for just £10.
2) General overview of Barry’s life
(Courtesy of Cindy Lawson)
Born in 1883 Sir Claude Francis Barry was the oldest son of an aristocratic, industrial
family. Defying his parents‟ wishes he became a painter, training first as a realist in Newlyn,
tutored by Alfred East, then later moving to St Ives where he became an active member of the
St Ives Art Club. Barry was embraced by the artistic establishment and by the age of 23 was
exhibiting with London‟s prestigious Royal Academy. Over the next decade he showed with
the R.A., the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Scottish Artists and the
Salon des Artistes.
Barry was forced into the studio at the outbreak of World War I and his painting style
evolved as he became less inclined to realism and more involved in colour and form. His
family background in design and engineering provided him with a good grounding in
exploring French pointillism and especially British vorticism.
In the 1920s he left England for Europe where he remained until the outbreak of the Second
World War. During this time he honed the skills as an etcher that he learned under the
tutelage of Sir Frank Brangwyn, making images both precise and atmospheric, which were
well received in the Paris Salon. He was awarded gold, silver and bronze medals for his
work in both France and Italy and amongst his diverse patrons were Queen Mary, Neville
Chamberlain and Mussolini.
As well as producing etchings from the early 1900s until the Second World War, Barry
continued to paint, approaching colour with what was essentially divisionist philosophy,
separating colour and using clear, unmixed colours to maximise luminosity.
Moving around Europe in the „20s and „30s, he painted and etched prolifically and became
inspired by the technical challenges of depicting dusk and darkness. This, in addition to his
keen interest in astrology is evident in many of his night-time works.
On the outbreak of
war in 1939 Barry returned to St Ives and, giving up etching, concentrated on oils. Later,
having moved to Jersey, his work continued with more emphasis on figurative paintings and
working with a minimalist style to produce blocks of colour and sinuous, pared-down
There, he became part of the “Phoenix Group”; comprising the well known Jersey artist
Edmund Blampied; John More; Barry‟s pupil Tom Skinner and his twin brother Jean Jacques.
A constantly evolving style over six decades has made Barry, despite his reticence about
promoting his work, a feature in many of the finest shows of his time.
At the end of the Second World War, Barry held a final exhibition at his studio and stated
that he was leaving St Ives. It was misreported that he intended to move to Paris, but it was
Jersey in the Channel Islands that ended up being his destination. Barry had become
relatively poor since leaving his first wife and family and virtually cutting himself off from
his wealthy father. Jersey's location and climate seemed perfect for such a talented artist.
Having settled in St Helier Barry and his wife Violet lived in various guest houses and private
hotels. By now Barry was concentrating his efforts on simpler works that could be described
as "naive" art, or work in the style of Clarice Cliff, consisting of large blocks of colour and
dark outlines. An obvious lover of women, much of his work consisted of nudes.
Barry had always been a loner, yet he did spend a lot of time in bars and music halls, which is
where he met Jersey artist Tom Skinner. They soon became fast friends and Skinner became
Barry's pupil. Before long the Skinners invited Barry to live with them and provided him with
studio space allowing him to continue his work. Barry lived with the Skinners for the next
seven years, and ultimately bequeathed all of his works and his estate to Tom Skinner.
Barry continued painting until his late eighties when, no longer capable of taking care of
himself, he was moved to a Nursing home in Kent to be near his family and died in 1970 after
a Sunday outing with his Son.
3) Exhibitions of Sir Claude Francis Barry's Work:
a) An exhibition of his work was held at the Barreau Art Gallery in Jersey following Barry‟s
death, and the bulk of his works went into storage, where they have largely remained until
Barry's style of work evolved throughout his life, but never failed to be striking and
impressive. Sadly, as is so often the case with great artists, it is only since his death that his
work has become so popular and is now exhibited in various museums and art galleries, as
well as appearing in various private art collections.
b) The Jersey Arts Centre 2004
c) The Collyer Bristow Gallery London 2005
d) Entent Cordiale Exhibition London 2005
e) The Mitchell Studio Gallery Addlestone, Surrey, 2006
f) LAPADA London 2008
g) LAPADA London 2009
h) The Watercolour Exhibition, the Science Museum London 2010
i) LAPADA London 2010
j) Penlee Museum, Penzance – Peace Night Trafalgar Square – 2010
k) The Royal Cornwall Museum 2011
4) Loans of Sir Claude Francis Barry’s work
Over the past ten years works have been loaned to banks and professional firms in Jersey and
in London, and to a school and the local hospice in Jersey.
5) Early history of Barry
(Courtesy of David Tovey)
Barry was a pacificist and spent the early part of the War near his family‟s home in Windsor.
The six months that he was forced to spend digging potatoes, he recalled as the worst time of
his life. In 1917, however, he settled in St Ives again, taking over from the mentally ill
Dorothy Robinson, the large property, „Belliers Croft‟, which she and her husband, Harry,
had built at the turn of the century. He rented initially one of the Porthmeor Studios, but
moved shortly thereafter to a studio in Porthmeor Square, which he named „St Leonard‟s
Studio‟ and in which he held exhibitions with his wife, Doris, in the summer of each of the
years 1918, 1919 and 1920. During this period, he produced work of great variety, but he
imbued all with his own poetic vision. Borlase Smart commented, "He feels the mystery of
twilight, the romance in a moonrise, or the happiness of a spring day".
Whilst based in Windsor, Barry was particularly attracted by the local woods. "Trees", he
proclaimed, "are the glory of landscape", and in his treatise on painting, he told students to
beware of thinking of them as green, for they were "very often blue, and can be crimson,
orange-yellow, grey or black; anyhow almost anything except green". The large painting (46"
x 67"), A Glade in Windsor Park (illustrated on page 209 of the book), is a fine example of
his woodland scenes of this period, whilst his painting, The Merry Woods of Windsor, was
highly complimented when it was hung at the Paris Salon in 1919. Other well-regarded
woodland subjects were Monarchs of Windsor Forest (Show Day 1920) and Autumn Glory
(RBA 1920). However, Barry‟s new-found interest in both pointillism and symbolist subjects
suggests the possible influence of Emile Fabry, although it is hard to be certain, as very few
of Barry‟s paintings in this style have come to light, despite the acclaim that they received at
The first mention of Barry‟s work, after his return to St Ives, was a note that his Royal
Academy exhibit of 1917, The Serenity of the Night, had been rendered poetic by "the
division of tones", the manner in which the pointillist technique was often referred to at the
time. However, no indication is given as to its subject or of any symbolism. However, his
next major work, The Twilight of the World, did have symbolic intent, and when it was
exhibited at the Cornish Artists exhibition in Plymouth in November 1917, it was hailed "as a
landscape that stands in a class by itself, and is bound to arrest attention and to give rise to
sharp controversy". It is believed that the scene featured many grave markers. Certainly, this
was the case with a work that he exhibited at Lanham‟s that December, entitled The Glory
that is France. It was a theme to which Barry returned in works such as We Shall Remember
Them (illustrated on page 77 of the book).
Barry‟s pointillist style made a particular impression when he turned his hand to searchlight
paintings - the works for which he eventually became best known. Feeling that Peace Night at
the end of the War would make a good subject, he spent months in London waiting for peace
to be declared and then his wife and himself spent the evening making notes to work up into
big pictures. Peace Night in Trafalgar Square showed joyous crowds "madly jazzing under
the shadow of Nelson‟s monument", with the scene illuminated by a magnificent firework
display, whereas The Grand Fleet on Peace Night, an illustration of which was reproduced in
Naval and Military Record in March 1920, showed the Fleet outlined by criss-crossing
searchlights. Pointillist-painted searchlights also featured in his 1919 Royal Academy exhibit
London and War Time, which received numerous favourable reviews for its combination of
realism and decorative effect. "On this canvas, showing a dim vision of Westminster from the
Surrey side of the river, the searchlight rays criss-cross each other, covering the heavens with
a curious pattern of geometrical figures; yellow spots of light on the bridge cast twinkling
reflections in waters already alive beneath the moonlight. The impression is clever and well
sustained." In 1920, he used this technique in a Cornish nocturne, The Hills of Home, which,
for boldness of conception and originality of outlook, was considered to be the leading work
in the RBA exhibition that year and was hung in the place of honour. "In the weird light of a
young moon, the country stretches away - the whole seen through a „snow-storm‟ of
variously coloured dots." Accordingly, Barry‟s experiments in pointillism were highly
regarded at the time, but, sadly, the only example located is a small painting of a Cornish tin
mine, owned by the Royal Cornwall Museum.