James Barry

Study for ‘Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos’


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 210 x 286 mm
Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

Display caption

Philoctetes was a Greek hero, celebrated for his stoic endurance of suffering. A festering wound on his foot meant that he was left behind on the island of Lemnos while the Greek army continued its journey to Troy.

This drawing is a study for a large oil painting. Barry based Philoctetes’s body a celebrated fragment of classical sculpture, the ‘Belvedere torso’. But his notes in the corner of the drawing show a major problem facing history painters: how to suggest bodily pain without resorting to distortions of the face which would destroy the dignity of a heroic figure.

Gallery label, September 2004