Sir Claude Francis Barry
SIR CLAUDE FRANCIS BARRY 1883-1970 A painter and etcher born in London in 1883, he was educated at Harrow school and then studied art at St Ives and Newlyn in Cornwall with Stanhope Forbes. He was also a pupil of Sir Alfred East and Sir Frank Brangwyn. He showed at the I1, L6, LS13, NEA1, RA17, RBA78, ROI2, NEAC and Paris Salon. Sir Francis lived in Windsor in 1906, St Ives, Cornwall in 1911, London in 1922, the French Riviera and Northern Italy in the 1920s and 30s, St Ives Cornwall from 1940 to 1945 and Jersey in the Channel Islands at Val Plaisant from 1945 until his death in 1970. (Book ref: Moon Behind Clouds). Paintings and etchings by the British painter Sir Francis Barry, as he preferred to be known professionally – are now emerging into the clear light of critical recognition and increasing acclaim. Recent exhibitions reveal the distinctive visionary sensibility and powerfully subtle colourism of a modernist artist whose works have been, until quite recently, relatively occluded from public view. Over a long career, Barry created a remarkably variegated body of work, underpinned always by a lucid sense of structure and a quite continental self-assurance in employing often quite audacious contrasts of colours and tones. His work includes many stylised portraits of sensually confident women, chicly clothed or naked - including his two wives and, especially, the beautiful Doreen Durrell, his mistress in the 1950s - sometimes rendered with Fauvist fluency and vigour, at times with graceful Pointillist refinement. In contrast to these female studies is a series of beautifully bleak paintings made during the Second World War which depict tragically cross-strewn, tree-blasted landscapes (at Monte Cassino and elsewhere) at the dead of night, illumined partly by a singular star or spangles of stars above. The melodious barrenness of these scenes movingly conveys the artist’s own anguished historical contemplations; he himself declared, ‘the last fifty years are the most terrible of which history has any record’. During the War, Barry also created several major paintings – at once historically momentous and lyrically intimate - describing the Blitz over London and Windsor with a scintillatingly intricate and dramatic use of patterning which describes numerous asymmetric searchlights transfiguring the nocturnal scene. Here, Barry’s own fertile study of modern art movements has resulted in a highly original synthesis: the searchlights themselves uniting the severe mechanical angularities of Vorticist and Futurist art with delicate tonal modulations characteristic of Pointillism (itself a way of building up form by juxtaposing countless, almost infinitesimal dots of contrasting colours, as initiated in the late 19th century by George Seurat). The War’s end helped inspire Barry to create a series of deliriously exuberant yet nevertheless succinctly composed paintings representing fireworks over the Houses of Parliament on VE Day in London and over Red Square in Moscow (the latter informed by photographs of the event). Barry’s self-declared appreciation of colour as the joy and glory of painting is clear in these semi-abstracted explorations of light and colour exploding apocalyptically over the victorious capital cities. It was in his early days as a painter that Barry had learnt from the example of Frank Brangwyn the expressive power of an attenuated palette: four tones of light, three of shadow. From Matisse, he imbibed lessons about the radical emotive and decorative potential implicit in what he called the extreme contrast of colour. Born into an affluent family - his grandfather, a first baronet, had earned a fortune as an industrialist, and owned several large estates - Barry had an unsettled childhood, following the death of his mother when he was two years old. After he left Harrow School early following some kind of nervous breakdown, he toured Italy with a tutor, enchanted especially by Venice (a recurrent future subject). Alienated from (and largely disinherited by) his family, he settled with his first wife in the Cornish art colonies of Newlyn and St. Ives, where he was encouraged as a painter by the artist Sir Alfred East. He left his wife and two children around 1922 and went to live abroad, and remarried in 1927. Until the outbreak of War, when he returned to St. Ives, he lived as an itinerant painter and etcher in France, Germany and Italy. Following the death of his father in 1949, he inherited the family title (he was now to be addressed as Sir Francis), and, with his wife, settled in St. Helier in Jersey. His paintings and etchings of continental subjects - such as the Cathedral at Chartres, Mont St. Michel, San Gimignano and Entrance to San Remo but also winter in Moscow - range from heightened realism of an almost hallucinatory precision to a poetic distillation and re-figuration of the entire scene. In the latter, swathes of vibrant non-naturalistic colour are contained by precise yet rhythmically fluid outlines - a decorative economy of style reminiscent of artists such as Gauguin and the French Symbolists and Nabis. In his later portrayals of natural forms such as trees, clouds, rivers, lakes, mountains and the sea, Barry invests his subjects with such a dynamically simplified presence (in terms of colour and form) that they appear enthrallingly on the verge of pure abstraction.