The Famous Artist Sir Claude Francis Barry
History of Sir Claude Francis Barry
Sir Claude Francis Barry was born in 1883 and trained as an artist in St Ives under Alfred Bast and in the Newlyn School of realist paintings. He was embraced by the art world at a very young age, and by age 23 he was exhibiting at London's Royal Academy. Over the next sixty years he regularly exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Scottish Artistes and the Salon des Artists Français. Barry excelled at both painting and etching and in the 1920s he moved to Europe leaving his family behind and concentrated on his award winning etchings.
Following his return to England after the outbreak of the Second World War Barry's work gradually became more abstract, and he especially enjoyed using vibrant colours in his work. By now he was living in St Ives for the second time in his life, a popular location for many artists due its distance from the intense wartime conflict taking place centrally within the country. All of his etching plates were destroyed in an allied bombing raid on Milan in 1944 so Barry began to concentrate on oils.
At the end of the war Barry held a final exhibition at his studio and stated that he was leaving St Ives. It was misreported that he intended to move to Paris, but it was Jersey in the Channel Islands that ended up being his destination. Barry had become relatively poor since leaving his first wife and family and virtually cutting himself off from his wealthy father, Jersey's location and climate seemed perfect for such a talented artist.
Barry Moves To Jersey
Having settled in St Helier Barry and his wife Violet lived in various guest houses and private hotels. By now Barry was concentrating his efforts on simpler works, that could be described as "naïve" art, or work in the style of Clarice Cliff, consisting of large blocks of colour and dark outlines. An obvious lover of women, much of his work consisted of nudes.
Barry went on to have a long affair with "Doreen Durrell" the wife of a local doctor. She appeared in many of his paintings. After his wife's death Barry gifted a number of valuable items to Doreen, including a Barbara Hepworth painting that had been given to him by the artist, and a number of his family heirlooms. In 1964 he drew up his will leaving Doreen £200 and any premium bonds he held. Later he reduced the bequest to £100 and by 1969 he excluded Doreen from his will altogether, no doubt due to the fact his relationship with her had finished.
The Post War Years
In the years following the Second World War Barry had developed a fondness for alcohol, and frequently consumed several bottles of wine per day as well as a bottle of brandy. He had developed various other addictions, including smoking cheap cigars and a reliance on sleeping pills.
Barry had always been a loner, yet he did spend a lot of time in bars and music halls, which is where he metJersey artist "Tom Skinner". They soon became fast friends and Skinner became Barry's pupil. Before long the Skinners invited Barry to live with them and provided him with studio space allowing him to continue his work. Barry lived with the Skinners for the next seven years, and ultimately bequeathed all of his works and his estate to Tom Skinner.
Around 1963 Tom Skinner assisted in decorating the "New Era Cinema" in preparation for Sydney James to present "The Old Tyme Music Hall" show in Jersey. As a result of this Mr Skinner was given complimentary tickets to the "invitation only" opening night of the cabaret. He felt that having seen the rehearsals previous to the opening night, this would be a show with the kind of ambiance and professionalism that Sir Claude Francis Barry would appreciate. Subsequently Mr Skinner brought Barry with him to the show, and his enjoyment of the evening prompted Barry to write to the local papers praising the quality of the entertainment, (see newspaper clippings below). Barry was particularly impressed with the Bel Canto voice of the beautiful and vivacious Mary Marshall, and subsequently wrote to her and requested she sit for him. She agreed, and Barry went on to paint a large colourful portrait of her in oils which was later exhibited in the 179th Exposition of the Salon des Artistes Français being held at the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Barry seemed to develop a genuine fondness for Ms Marshall, and wrote her several very complimentary letters, the initial one being the request for her to sit for him. A transcript of the letter is as follows:
"Dear Mary Marshall
Thank you for your letter and invitation to your opening night. I shall certainly hope to come to it- If you have room could you also invite Mr and Mrs Skinner with whom I am living- they could bring me in their car and bring me back- you met Mr Skinner when he was decorating the New Era. With my bad foot it is difficult for me to come out alone at night- but if I must come alone I expect you could get some man to give me his arm to get me into a taxi to get me home.
I am surprised at the action of the New Era- everything they did was a failure until Mr James put on the Old Tyme Music Hall, then they had great success for 2 years- I am also surprised at Billy wells, I can only think he wants to be the top in the new show and of course last year he was just second- you stole the show with your great beauty and glorious voice.
Your attraction is very disturbing to any man who sees you, you know I often dream about you- you know your beauty is not just physical the beauty of your character shines in your face- artists know these things Mary.
I go to Paris on 11th May until 5th June- when I come back I am usually with __________ would be the best time for me or rather us to paint you because of course you would have to help- I should want you to come to the Sennett one day to have a good photo taken of you in the best position and will paint you in and others. I should need you to come for 3 possibly 4 afternoons to me for 2 hours for the picture__ it would not be hardwork for you- you would just sit in a chair and relax and forget you are being painted- and would have whatever you like to drink and you could smoke and talk and fidget and move about and rest whenever you wanted the one thing you must not do is to sit still- if you do all the vitality goes out of your face. I hope to win your friendship Mary
Yours very sincerely
Do you realise that you are one of the most lovely girl in the world"
In certain places where a line is seen to replace text in the above letter, this indicates his handwriting was indecipherable and therefore the word or words cannot be included.
Ms Marshall sat for Barry on a number of occasions and found him to be a perfect gentleman. He never requested her to pose for any nude work and Ms Marshall felt this was because he had far too much respect for her as a lady to make such a suggestion. In fact it would appear that in spite of being many years her senior he had developed a real attraction for her, although he never made any improper advances. She recalls him being quite eccentric, usually looking fairly scruffy and dressed in old fashioned collarless shirts. Mary Marshall did develop a genuine fondness for Barry as a person in spite of the fact any attraction Barry had for her was not reciprocated, and she still remembers fondly the time she spent in his company.
The resulting large portrait of Mary Marshall was gifted to her by Sir Claude and has recently been sold through a UK auction house in the hope that the new owners may have the right facilities to display it to it's best advantage.
Mary Marshall Portrait and Paris Salon Catalogue
Letters From Sir Claude Francis Barry to Mary Marshall
The Final Years
As Barry got older he became increasingly more eccentric, both shy and yet bad tempered, witty and yet outrageous. Superstition played a large part of his life during these years to the degree he would not paint on a Friday the 13th and resisted looking at a new moon through glass.
His studio became increasingly more filthy, and a haven for mice and germs. Barry dressed in outsized boots, a suit and old fashioned collarless shirts, often with his pyjamas still visible underneath. He sported an ancient hat that was so old it had three holes worn through it where he had doffed it to ladies over the years.
Barry - essentially a shy man - found it difficult to promote his work and eventually ceased to exhibit his work because he felt unappreciated, no doubt relieved not to have to try to promote it further.
Barry continued painting until his late eighties when, no longer capable of taking care of himself, he was moved to a Nursing home in Kent to be near his family and died in 1970 after a Sunday outing with his Son.
Buildings and Structures
Exhibitions of Sir Claude Francis Barry's Work
An exhibition of his work was held at the Barreau Art Gallery in Jersey following his death, and the bulk of his works went into storage, where they have largely remained until now.
Barry's style of work evolved throughout his life, but never failed to be striking and impressive. Sadly, as is so often the case with great artists, it is only since his death that his work has become so popular and is now exhibited in various museums and art galleries, as well as appearing in various private art collections.
My Personal Favourites
I would like to sincerely thank David Capps of "Fine Art Promotions Ltd" in Jersey, who gave me permission to use various images of Sir Claude Francis Barry's works from his website, as well as allowing me to source much of my research from the book "Moon Behind Clouds" by Katie Campbell to which "Fine Art Promotions Ltd" hold copyright.
Without Mr Capps support for this article it would never have been possible to convey the brilliance of Sir Claude Francis Barry, and I only hope that thanks to this more people will become aware of Barry's work and will become collectors, or at the very least avid fans themselves.
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