India’s only daily art newspaper

Barry’s murals of the Royal Society



Irish painter James Barry is most known for his six-part series of works, The Progress of Human Culture, which may be found in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London. He is also renowned for being one of the first romantic painters active in Britain because of his ambition to produce art in accordance with his own beliefs rather than those of his patrons.

James Barry was born in Cork, Ireland on 11th October, 1741. In addition to being a builder, his father had also worked as a coasting trader between England and Ireland at one point in his life. Barry actually travelled quite a bit as a young boy, but he persuaded his father to allow him to pursue his artistic interests. He attended art school in Cork and Dublin. He went to Bologna and Rome in Italy between 1766 and 1771 to study the art of the old masters. He became very interested in history painting. Many other artists at the time painted portraits of the wealthy to earn money. However, Barry\’s first love was for history painting. In 1782 he became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy.


Barry proposed to decorate the Royal Society of Arts\’ Great Room in 1774 with a grandiose historical sequence of paintings titled \”The Progress of Human Culture.\” The painters initially rejected his proposal, but in 1777 they agreed to it. He spent six years creating a set of six paintings on the development of human knowledge and civilization that have been dubbed \”Britain\’s late, magnificent answer to the Sistine Chapel.\”

But before painting murals on the walls of the arts group, Barry insisted on having complete creative control. James\’ connection to the murals turned out to be quite deep, and he kept the Royal Society members from understanding its actual significance. Essentially, Mr. Barry painted the paintings during a time when Catholicism was not particularly popular in Britain. They were of a Catholic nature. James would have forfeited his commission and been expelled from London right away if he had been honest about his subject. The huge murals took him seven years to complete, and it was only a few years after his death in 1806 that other artists began to study the messages behind the paintings. Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida, Death of General Wolfe, The Thames or Triumph of Navigation, Mercury inventing the lyre, and Narcissus are some of his well known works.


The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica has this to say: As an artist, Barry was more distinguished for the strength of his conceptions, and for his resolute and persistent determination to apply himself only to great subjects, than for his skill in designing or for beauty in his colouring. His drawing is not especially good, his colouring ordinary. He was impulsive; sometimes morose, sometimes sociable and urbane; jealous of his contemporaries, and yet capable of pronouncing a splendid eulogy on Reynolds.



  1. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/satan-at-the-abode-of-chaos-and-old-night
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Barry_(painter)
  3. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/irish-artists/james-barry.htm

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *