Born in Ireland, James Barry settled in London from the age of thirty, where he became probably the most important history painter in the grand Classical manner ever to emerge from this country. Despite a marked lack of patronage in this field James Barry struggled throughout his life to establish its place in British art. He held the passionate belief that the purpose of art was to instruct, and to this end he saw himself as an embattled spokesman for social, political, and religious reform. These beliefs were to cost him his position as Professor of Painting to the Royal Academy whose policies he denounced so fiercely that he became the only member ever to have been expelled from its ranks.
James Barry based most of his etchings upon his major painted works, and their influence over the years, has been extensive. James Barry’s expressive depiction of human form, the visionary nature of his images and the structural layout of his pictures inspired numerous artists over the following century – most significant was his influence upon William Blake and the subsequent development of those who followed in Blake’s footsteps.