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Barry was a passionate champion of neo-classical history painting on a vast scale. After initial success he became a martyr to its cause, dying neglected and convinced of the hostility of the art establishment. This is one of Barry's most ambitious paintings, made for Alderman Boydell's 'Shakespeare Gallery', a collection of engraved scenes from Shakespeare by celebrated artists of the day. Boydell held an exhibition of the original pictures in 1789. Here, a heartbroken Lear supports the body of his beloved daughter Cordelia. Barry has set the tragic scene in an heroic landscape with Stonehenge in the background.

September 2004