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Portrait of Isaac Barré (1726-1802)

1766
Origin: England, London
Unframed: 50 1/8 x 40 1/16in. (127.3 x 101.8cm) and Framed: 57 x 47 1/16 x 2 1/2in. See "Curatorial Remarks" for the exterior dimensions of the non-original frame in which the painting was received in 2010. The above dimensions are for the repro frame added in March 2011.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2010-103,A
A three-quarter length portrait of a man standing by an open, stone-framed window or parapet with a dark green drape running diagonally through the composition from upper left to lower right. He wears a red, gold-embroidered coat and matching waistcoat with a white ruffled shirt. His hair, in slight disarray, is gray, combed back from his face and curled on the sides. He holds a rolled piece of paper in his proper left hand. With his proper right hand, he gestures toward a map that is partially unrolled on a table or ledge beside him, partially exposing a packet of papers tied with a pink ribbon beneath.

The 8-inch, gessoed and gilded auricular-style frame received on the picture in 2010 is not original to it and does not appear to have significant age. [Was it fabricated by Spink? See transcription of label under "Marks"]. Neither was it custom made for the picture, judging by the fill strips along the rabbet edges and the inordinate amount of composition covered. This frame was replaced with a 4-inch modern, custom-made, gilded, Carlo Maratta-style frame made by CWF furniture conservator Chris Swan in February-March 2011.



Label:Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of thirty-four founding members of the Royal Academy, an institution established in 1768 by act of King George III and the first to provide professional training for artists in Britain. Reynolds served as the Academy's president from its inception until his death in 1792. Through his leadership, example, and direct instruction (such as his published _Discourses_ on art), Reynolds helped formalize art training and influenced coming generations of artists, not only in Britain but, by extension, throughout the western world. Furthermore, by providing opportunities for exhibitions (open to all artists, not just members), the Academy publicly recognized the importance of the visual arts and elevated the social standing of practicing artists.

Colonel Isaac Barré was the Dublin-born son of French Hugenot émigrés who initially intended him for the Bar. Barré chose the army instead, however, and rose through the ranks to serve as major and adjutant general under James Wolfe (1727-1759) at the 1759 Battle of Quebec. Wolfe's death thwarted Barré's chances of military advancement and prompted his switch to politics. In 1761, Lord Shelburne nominated Barré for the vacant parliamentary seat of Wycombe, having purposely chosen Barré "as a bravo [thug or hired assasin] to run down Mr. Pitt," i.e., William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778). Barré fulfilled his patron's wishes, creating a sensation by the vehemence of his attack on Pitt in his maiden speech in the House of Commons. Although he later became one of Pitt's strongest supporters, he ever afterwards maintained a reputation for inflammatory oratory.

Barré's vigorous opposition to Britain's taxation of the American colonies garnered deep appreciation and admiration west of the Atlantic. (His name is commemorated in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Barre, Vermont; and Barre, Massachusetts.) A facial wound received during the Battle of Quebec ultimately blinded him. But his experience in North America also gave him a critical perspective on the causes of the colonists' rapidly developing discontent with British rule. In a particularly notable speech of 1765, he spawned the now-famed description of the American patriots as "Sons of Liberty." Reynolds depicted Barré pointing to a map of North America, thereby emphasizing his subject's political convictions (as well as illustrating the multi-faceted importance of maps in contemporary life). One detail connects the portrait even more closely to Colonial Williamsburg: on Barré's map, the colony of Virginia is outlined in red. The map shown in the painting was published in London in 1755 by Thomas Jefferys (d. 1771); an imprint (without the red outlining) is owned by Colonial Williamsburg (see acc. no. 2010-126).

A scarlet three-piece suit forms the dominant color note in Barré's three-quarter-length portrayal, the choice recalling the fiery nature of his rhetoric, while the cool, forest-green drapery behind him provides an effective foil. A rolled, unlettered paper is clenched in one hand. In contrast, the openness of the hand with which he points to the map of the colonies suggests the need for a more open, tolerant attitude towards their inhabitants. The scene through the open window is replete with contrast: a calm sea mirrors the sun's brilliance, but a hovering black cloud hints at strife to come. Contemporary accounts mention the then-forty-year-old colonel's "athletic frame and mould," so the paunch of his belly illustrates only a fashionable contour for men of the period. Compositionally, however, it emphasizes the barrel of his chest and, in turn, his "extraordinary powers of voice."

Horace Walpole described Barré as "a black, robust man, of a military figure, rather hard-favoured than not, young, with a peculiar distortion on one side of his face, which it seems was a bullet lodged loosely in his cheek, and which gave a savage glare to one eye." Other acquaintances remarked on the demonic look imparted by the old war wound, particularly under stressful circumstances. It is not surprising that Reynolds would shroud the injury in shadow. Yet the eye shines keenly through the half-light, fixing us, today, as it must have riveted Barré's parliamentary colleagues.

As visual biography, Barré's portrait reinforces the historical record of his life. Together, picture and text illuminate Britain's complex, frequently shifting balance of administrative power and help counter modern Americans' stereotypical notions of a government unified in tyranny. Naturally, late-eighteenth-century American colonists had strong opinions about how well or poorly the political structure of their mother country worked. And post-Revolution, those charged with crafting a new form of government strove diligently to avoid its perceived pitfalls.


Provenance:Per Dreweatts ("Published"), by 1833, Marquess Camden, thence by descent to the 5th Marquis Camden Will Trust, whence sold at auction 14 September 2010.
Mark(s):Numerous non-original inscriptions and marks appear on the stretchers (which are replacements). Handwritten and stenciled inscriptions appear under "Inscriptions." Press-printed ones follow here. "L" and "R" below refer to the viewer's L and R as read from the back of the picture:

Press-printed on a water-adhesive label at the top of the R stretcher is:
"[G? or 5?]51".

A torn, press-printed label on the back of the frame is only partially legible; intact lettering reads: " . . . PINK & . . . ON LTD/6 & 7, R . . . STREET,/ST. J . . . ES'S,/LOND . . . S. W. 1." Handwritten on the same label below the press-printed portion are remnants of words, of which only " . . . n/. . . store?" are now visible.
Inscription(s):Within the composition, the lettering on the map at lower left is not consistently legible. The following words are clear, but others may be discerned with additional study, better lighting, magnification, and comparison with the actual source map: "NORTH AMERICA," "SCALA/SCOLE," "MARYLAND," "BOSTON," "PENSILVANIA," "PROPERTY," "MYAMIS," "ILINOIS," "FROM," "VIRGINIA," OUTAGAMIS," and "UPPER LAKE."

Within the composition, the lettering on the spine of the book laid horizontally above the map reads, "ESPRIT/DES/LOIX".

Numerous non-original inscriptions and marks appear on the stretchers (which are replacements). Handwritten and stenciled inscriptions follow; press-printed ones are noted under "Marks." "L" and "R" below refer to the viewer's L and R as read from the back of the picture:

In graphite in upright script in the middle of the stop stretcher is: "Saloon No 1".

In white chalk in script on the upper stretcher is: "Sitting room over [fireplace?] A label obscures part of this inscription.

Handwritten in graphite on a blue-bordered, water-adhesive label on the top stretcher is: [two lines not yet deciphered . . . .]

The immediately preceding label on the top stretcher partially covers a graphite inscription appearing to begin with "Ba . . . ."

In white chalk on the L stretcher is: "XB 969 B/C 18759129".

Handwritten in ink on a blue-bordered, water-adhesive label near the top of the L stretcher is: "150[0?]", the end torn and missing.

Stenciled in black paint along the L stretcher, near the top, is: "WW262", all of which is struck through with lines of white paint.

Stenciled in black paint along the lower stretcher is: "X13969".

In white chalk on the R stretcher is: "153 9 July 08".

The immediately preceding is written over an earlier, abraded, faded, and now almost totally illegible white chalk inscription of which only "X" and "[S?] WP" seem plain.

In white chalk at the top of the R stretcher is: "C 6".

Near the top of the R stretcher in graphite, the single letter "S" appears in Gothic-style lettering mimicking ribbon- or strap-work.

In pink chalk on the UL corner stretcher brace is: "W R [? illeg.] 3".

See "Marks" for a press-printed label on the back of the frame received on the picture; it includes some handwritten lettering. Also on the back of the frame are a few graphite inscriptions, all of them fractional measurements except for the word "Cor[r]idor".