Barry, Claude Francis (1883-1970)

Sir Claude Francis Barry, an enigmatic and largely unknown artist regarded by some as a modern British master. In a life that spanned some of the greatest events of the 20th century, Barry produced an eclectic range of works moving through many phases and styles, from moody landscapes and etchings to gaudy pop art panoramas and naïve figurative works. His personal story is almost as intriguing. Born into a rich industrial family in 1883, he died in 1970 in relative poverty in Jersey. In between he wandered enigmatically across Europe, settled twice in St Ives, cultivated a reputation as a bon viveur and at one point even abandoned his family to be an etcher on the Continent. During the 1930s his wealthy clients included Queen Mary, Neville Chamberlain and Mussolini, and he even managed to emulate one of them by embracing pacifism whilst courting fascist despots. Yet towards the end of this eventful life he was almost destitute - holed up in Jersey, where he reworked some of his earlier works and painted a series of sumptuous nudes under the modest benefaction of the artist Tom Skinner. The final three years of his life were spent in a nursing home in Kent. It was an intriguing end for a man who spent much of his life travelling and painting without need or want. Like many of his peers he began his artistic endeavours in Cornwall as a realist painter in Newlyn under the tutelage of Alfred East and the Newlyn School. From there he went to St Ives and honed the skills which were to allow him to experiment successfully in a diverse range of styles including post-impressionism, pointillism, Vorticism, abstraction and minimalism. This eclecticism, combined with the fact that many of his works remain in private hands, is one reason why his talent remains relatively unknown outside of art establishment circles.

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