One of my libraries is in an old manor house divided into lots of rooms. It’s lovely going from one room to another to look at different subjects. And often wander onto the Cornish room to browse the shelves dedicated to local artists.
Most of the names are familiar Newlyn school artists: Stanhope Forbes, Laura Knight, Harold Harvey, Gwen John, Walter Langley. And some more contemporary names: Patrick Heron, John Miller, Terry Frost. But one day I spotted a name I didn’t know at all: Claude Francis Barry.
I picked up the book and I was immediately struck by the cover image. And by the quality of the book itself: thick glossy paper, well-bound and lavishly illustrated.
So why hadn’t I heard of him? Who was Claude Francis Barry?
I discovered from the introduction that Barry has been forgotten by many, though he has a small and fervent band of devotees, and little is known about his life.
He was born in 1883 to a wealthy family. But his mother died when he was just two years old and he seems to have had a parting of the ways with his family when he chose not to follow the path they set out for him. he chose instead a life as an artist.
He trained in St Ives with Sir Alfred Bast. His early style had much in common with the St Ives and Newlyn schools, but it evolved into something very different. Something much more colourful, something that owed less to realism and more to impressionism.
He worked in many media and achieved a great deal of success over the years.
But his life seems to have been troubled. He abandoned his first wife and children and, though he remarried, he died alone.
Maybe why he is less remembered – there was no keeper of the flame. And the fact that he couldn’t be slotted into one of the local schools probably didn’t help.
But what about the pictures. Well for me they were a mixed bunch. Some verged on the gaudy. Certainly, for me, the nudes were a little too idealised, a little too brightly coloured.
But I loved many of the landscapes and portraits. Most definitley the work of an artist who should not be forgotten.
I can happily recommend this book. It is well written by somebody who clearly loves Barry’s work and lavishly illustrated.
And the pictures? Not many available online – most seem to be in private collections. . As I’m a little unclear about where copyright lies so I won’t post any images – but if I have piqued your interest you can find a selection here.