James Barry

The Conversion of Polemon

1778–1808

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

Artist
James Barry 1741–1806
Medium
Etching, line engraving and aquatint on paper
Dimensions
Image: 576 x 859 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1992
Reference
T06574

Display caption

Polemon was a debauched Athenian youth. One day he came into the school of the philosopher Xenocrates who was lecturing on the ill effects of intemperance. Polemon was so struck by Xenocrates's arguments that he immediately renounced his dissipated life so he could study philosophy. Here Barry clearly identifies Polemon with the liberal politician Charles James Fox. Fox felt that the government should make concessions to the Americans in their War of Independence against Britain (1775-83). Nonetheless, his flippant life style meant that few took him seriously. Barry stated that Xenocrates represented the pro-American philosopher Edmund Burke. The print was Barry's attempt to persuade fellow radicals to take Fox seriously.

Gallery label, August 2004