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Barret, George (1728?-1784) (DNB00)

BARRET, GEORGE the elder (1728?–1784), landscape painter, was one of the original members of the Royal Academy, and achieved a great reputation in his lifetime. He was born in Dublin in 1728 or 1732. The son of a clothier, he was apprenticed to a staymaker, but obtained employment in colouring prints for Silcock, the publisher. He studied in the academy of West at Dublin, and is said to have been a drawing master in a school in that city. He early gained the notice of Burke, who introduced him to the Earl of Powerscourt, and he spent much of his youth in studying and sketching the charming scenery in and around Powerscourt Park. Barret gained a premium of 50l. from the Dublin Society for the best landscape. He came to England in 1762, and carried off the first premium of the Society of Arts in 1764. His success was extraordinary. Though Wilson could not sell his landscapes, Barret's were bought at prices then unheard of. Lord Dalkeith paid him 1,500l. for three pictures. But he spent more than he made, and became a bankrupt while earning 2,000l. a year. By the influence of Burke he was appointed to the lucrative post of master painter to Chelsea Hospital. The Dukes of Portland and Buccleuch possess some of his principal landscapes; but his most important work was the decoration of a room at Norbury Park, near Leatherhead, which was then occupied by Mr. Lock. Three of his watercolours are in the national collection at South Kensington. In one of them the horses were introduced by Sawrey Gilpin, who often assisted him in this way. Barret, however, could himself paint animals in a spirited manner. An asthmatic affection is said to have been the reason for his change of residence from Orchard Street to Westbourne Green, where he lived for the last ten years of his life. He died 29 May 1784, and was buried at Paddington church. Though he does not appear to have wanted employment, he left his family in distress.

Some of his pictures have not stood well, and his reputation has not remained at the level it reached in his life; but there can be no doubt that he was an original artist, who studied nature for himself, and it is probable that his popularity at first was due to the novelty of his style and the decisiveness of his touch. The latter quality is very evident in the few etchings which he left. The Messrs. Redgrave write of his work at Norbury as ‘rather a masterly specimen of scenic decoration,’ but ‘with little of the finesse of his landscape painting,’ and, while admitting ‘the firm pencil and vigorous onceness’ of his execution, add that ‘his pictures do not touch us, since they are the offspring more of rule than of feeling.’

His etchings include: ‘A View of the Dargles near Dublin,’ ‘Six Views of Cottages near London,’ ‘A large Landscape with Cottages,’ and ‘A View of Hawarden,’ dated 1773. The last, which was published by Boydell, is said by Edwards to have been finished by an engraver. Le Blanc gives this plate to Robert Barret.

[Edwards's Anecdotes; Redgraves' Century of Painters; Redgrave's Dictionary; Bryan's Dictionary, edited by Graves (1884); Le Blanc's Manuel; Cat. of Nat. Gall. at South Kensington.]

C. M.