Artist biography

Irish painter. The son of a tailor, he first trained as a staymaker but then found work colouring prints for Silcock, a publisher in Dublin. In the 1750s, perhaps through the influence of Edmund Burke, Barret embarked on a series of topographical paintings. These works established his reputation, and he moved to London in 1763, and he was soon taken up by English patrons.

Much of his work at this time is a clear reflection of Burke's influential treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757). In 1765 he visited North Wales, later travelling to Westmorland and Cumberland in the Lake District. He was one of the first artists to be inspired by the Sublime characteristics of the Lake District, and he received wide acclaim for so doing. A measure of his popularity can be gauged by his reputed income of £2,000 per annum, although this high figure is partly explained by the numerous pot-boilers he produced during the 1770s.

In 1782, through Burke's efforts, Barret was appointed Official Painter to the Chelsea Royal Hospital; by this time, however, he was in poor health and died before completing any work for that institution. Several of his children were active as painters: Mary Barret (d 1836) specialized in miniatures; James Barret ( fl 1785–1819) mainly worked as a topographical artist, as did George Barret jr (1767–1842), who in 1840 published The Theory and Practice of Water-colour Painting.

E. Waterhouse: Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, Pelican Hist. A. (Harmondsworth, 1953, rev. 4/1978), pp. 241–2
A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin: The Painters of Ireland, 1660–1920 (London, 1978), pp. 112–20


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