James Barry
Study for ‘Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos’ 1770

Artwork details

James Barry 1741–1806
Study for ‘Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos’
Date 1770
Medium Ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 210 x 286 mm
Acquisition Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

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.

September 2004