Artist in the background: life and works of George Barret, the Elder

Morse, Logan McKinsey (2022) Artist in the background: life and works of George Barret, the Elder. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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As the first complete catalogue of the known work of George Barret (1728 or 1732-1784), this dissertation presents an analysis of the Irish landscape painter whose work has been largely overlooked in the artistic genres of British art. Beginning his career in Dublin, before moving to London and working around the British Isles, Barret’s work engages with an Anglo-Irish perspective on landscape informed by the contemporary trends of the Sublime, the classical and ultimately the Picturesque. As a friend of Edmund Burke (1929-1797), and an acquaintance of William Gilpin, Barret manifests the direct influence of their ideas. Despite this more artistic merit, arguably the artist’s ¬¬greatest success is a result of his ability to interact with potential patrons, gaining him commissions over now better-known contemporaries such as Richard Wilson. The son of a Dublin tailor, Barret rose to become a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768, and his work was very popular in his lifetime. According to Thomas Bodkin, “George Barret, the elder, was reputed in his day, to be the greatest landscape painter whom Ireland, England, or Scotland had till then produced until then.” Despite this, Barret experienced the vicissitudes of the eighteenth-century art market and ended his life in relative obscurity, having suffered a bankruptcy from which he was not to recover. His artistic success, his position at the Royal Academy and the support he received from Burke notwithstanding, Barret has historically been seen as belonging to a lower tier of artistic merit than his better-known contemporaries. Contemporary painters such as Wilson themselves contributed to this impression, describing Barret’s paintings as depicting foliage like “spinach and eggs.”

As this dissertation will show, unlike Wilson, Barret did not travel to Italy. Instead, he borrowed the classical motifs that appear in his work from prints or his patrons’ Old Master collections in order to cater to the tastes of the Grand Tourists who commissioned his work. His working-class background meant that Barret needed to make a living from his painting. As a result, many of his landscapes were primarily intended for sale or as part of interior decoration commissions, for which Barret gained much contemporary commercial success – as at Norbury Park. This dissertation considers how his work developed alongside the rise of the Picturesque in British art – a term which denoted a landscape or view as worthy of being included in a picture and which grew out of Burke’s ideas of the Sublime. It is not within conventional art history – which remains rooted in a hierarchical celebration of individual British genius – that this dissertation will take place. Instead, it offers a partial catalogue of Barret’s work alongside an analysis of how his oeuvre can be seen within the social context of the eighteenth-century British art world, as Barret vied with a variety of different artists to achieve the most lucrative commissions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Art History
Subjects: N Fine Arts > ND Painting > ND1288 Special subjects > ND1340 Landscape painting
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2022 13:08
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2022 13:08

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