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James Barry RA, Male nude sitting on a rock

Male nude sitting on a rock, c. 1790s?

James Barry RA (1741 - 1806)

RA Collection: Art

A pen and ink drawing of a male nude sitting on a rock. The figure has his right arm held up to his head with the face in shadow. Deep contrasts of light and shade are effected by cross hatching and lines of varying thickness.

As well as giving theoretical lectures in his capacity as Professor of Painting from 1782-1799, James Barry defended and promoted the depiction of the nude in art through his writings. In An Inquiry into the Real and Imaginary Obstructions to the Acquisition of the Arts in England, 1775, for instance, he took issue with the 'prejudice that many people have to naked figures, as indedecent and tending to lewdness', giving examples from Classical and Renaissance art to demonstrate that this need not be the case.

Barry was also active as a teacher, known as a 'Visitor', in the Royal Academy's life class. Indeed, there are striking similarities between the pose of the figure in this drawing and one by J.M.W. Turner in the Tate Collection dated c.1794-5 (D00198, male-nude-with-a-staff-and-with-right-arm-on-head-r1140215). It seems very likely that the two drawings were made in the same RA life class when Barry was the Visitor and Turner was one of the students.

Stephen Francis Rigaud (1777-1861), son of the academician John Francis Rigaud RA (1742-1810), attended the Schools in the 1790s and left descriptions of the different methods of the Visitors with whom he studied. He observed that James Barry drew on coarse brown paper in pen and ink ‘making a bold clever sketch...with coarse materials that cost him nothing’ (Pressly, Walpole Society, 1984).

Further reading:

Liam Lenihan, The Writings of James Barry and the Genre of History Painting 1775 - 1809, Farnham, 2014

Tom Dunne ed., James Barry: The Great Historical Painter, Cork, 2005

William L. Pressly ed., ‘Facts and Recollections of the VIIIth Century in a Memoir of John Francis Rigaud Esq. RA by Stephen Francis Dutilh Rigaud’, Walpole Society, Volume 50 1984, pp. 1-164

William L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry, New Haven and London, 1981, cat. no.85, p. 258

James Barry, An Inquiry into the Real and Imaginary Obstructions to the Acquisition of the Arts in England, London 1775, pp.152-158

Object details

Male nude sitting on a rock
James Barry RA (1741 - 1806)
c. 1790s?
Object type
Pen and ink over black chalk on cream laid paper

516 mm x 319 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from Unknown in 12 November 1844
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