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Sir Claude Francis Barry Exhibition at The Royal Cornwall Museum Reveals Masterful Work
Collector David Capps. Photo: Bernie Pettersen.

CORNWALL.- Described by one national critic as ‘the greatest artist you never heard of’, Barry (1883-1970) was a prolific painter and etcher who spent years working alongside Newlyn School greats like Stanhope Forbes, Henry Scott Tuke and Norman Garstin at the beginning of the last century. An early narrative approach to painting gave way to more abstract themes as he experimented with a range of styles – including the very different schools of Pointillism and Vorticism. The result is an exciting, very varied portfolio of work that is as memorable as it is striking.

Had it not been for the passion and determination of one man, however, Barry would, in all likelihood, have remained an unknown. Independently wealthy, he didn’t need to sell his art during his lifetime and, when he died on Jersey in 1970, he left the bulk of it to an impoverished fellow artist. When solicitor David Capps came across it by chance four years later, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I’d answered a newspaper advertisement and ended up buying Glamorous Night, one of Barry’s nudes,” he explains. “I thought it was stunning and very tasteful and wanted to find out more about the artist. My research led to an introduction to Tom Skinner, Barry’s pupil and executor, who was living in a cold, damp garret at the time. Propped up against his wall was a pile of Barry’s etchings with condensation pouring down them. I knew I had to buy them – not for commercial reasons because no-one was buying art as a serious investment in 1974 – but because I loved them.”

David’s collection has grown to the extent that he now lends some of it to offices, institutions and schools so that more people can see it. Much of the work on display at the museum is his and, judging by the number of visitors coming to see the exhibition and the favourable comment it is attracting from specialists, Barry’s name is fast gaining recognition. Even Charles Saatchi, Jeffery Archer and some very significant galleries are reported to be fans.

David Capps formally opened A Master Revealed at a private view held at the Royal Cornwall Museum. The exhibition runs until 4 June and entry is free. A lunchtime talk being given by fine art specialist and BBC Antiques Roadshow contributor Michael Newman on 10 March has already sold out. A book on Barry entitled ‘Moon Behind Clouds’ by Katie Campbell is on sale in the museum foyer for just £10.

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