[ Katharine Ada Esdaile, art historian. ] Autograph Letter Signed ('Katharine A. Esdaile') to Sir Henry Trueman Wood, Secretary, Royal Society of Arts, requesting access to James Barry's paintings in the Adelphi and explaining the nature of the work.

Katharine Ada Esdaile [ née McDowall ] (1881-1950), art historian, wife of Arundell Esdaile (1880-1956), Secretary of the British Museum [ Sir Henry Trueman Wood, Royal Society of Arts; James Barry ]
Publication details: 
On letterhead of Keynes, Austenway, Gerrard's Cross. 22 January 1913.
SKU: 19232

5pp., 12mo. On two bifoliums. With the Society's oval Adelphi date stamp. In fair condition, on lightly-aged paper, with slight rust-staining from paperclip. She begins by asking if 'there would be any difficulty in my examining Barry's paintings at the Adelphi, & taking a few notes on them. | My old friend & my husband's colleague at the British Museum, Mr. Cyril Davenport [1848-1941, Assistant to the Keeper of Printed Books], suggested my writing to you, as the points into which I wish to go may take an hour or two to settle.' She explains that she is 'much interested in ancient portraits', and that she has been 'working through those which appear on coins in connexion with their sculptural types known or traditional, for the Journal of Hellenic Studies, in which that dealing with Homer has just appeared. | On looking through Barry's etchings I saw at once that many of the ancients were simply translations into paint of famous types in Greek & Roman art'; I have made out my lists & comparisons were possible, & wish to supplement them by a careful study of the originals.' She refers to 'a late letter' in which 'Barry explained to a correspondent that he gave Pericles the features of Lord Chatham because he know of no ancient bust, & therefore felt free to use the most appropriate historical type', and does not believe that her idea, 'thus confirmed by Barry himself, has been noted before'. She is sending a copy of 'the Homer paper, that one mauy see on what lines these articles are to be written: only Lycurgus, Thales & one or two others would come into the next one, & that incidentally'. She ends by stating that she is enclosing a copy of her calling card. The calling card is present, slightly rust-stained from paperclip, with the address amended in autograph by Esdaile. The Oxford DNB entry on the Irish painter James Barry (1741-1806) explains that 'the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce [...] in 1774 approached ten artists, Barry among them, to decorate the Great Room of its new building in the Adelphi designed by Robert Adam. The artists, who were to divide the profits of an exhibition of their work once it was completed, declined, but in 1777 Barry submitted his own proposal to decorate the Great Room. His series of six paintings (four measure 12 ft × 15 ft and two 12 ft × 42 ft) have been called by Sir Ellis Waterhouse, ‘the most considerable achievement in the true “grand style” by any British painter of the century’ (Waterhouse, 199). Barry's subject was ambitious—undertaking, as his biographer, Edward Fryer, wrote, ‘no less than the complete history of the human mind in its various stages from barbarity to refinement’, ending in ‘the final retribution awarded to all in a future world’ (Works, 1.317). The first three paintings chart the progress of Greek civilization from a primitive to a civilized state, and these are followed by two canvases celebrating contemporary England. The final canvas, Elysium and Tartarus, contains Barry's selection of who belongs among God's elect.'