Book review: William Pressly, James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts

By Sarah Jones

William Pressly’s James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts won the prestigious Berger Prize for British Art History in December 2015. The review below, by Alexander Gourlay, will appear in the spring 2016 issue of Blake; we are posting it in advance on the blog to celebrate the recognition that the book has received.

Blake refers several times to Barry as a man who was ill served by the art establishment; he records, “Barry told me that while he Did that Work [painted the murals]—he Lived on Bread & Apples.”

Pressly believes that Barry is especially important for Blake studies: “Of all the Irishman’s contemporaries, Blake is the one who most closely shared the breadth and profundity of his vision and the heroic vocabulary by which to express it” (284). As Gourlay says, “Blake starts to look a lot less nutty if we recognize that some of his mystifying referential leaps have precedents in the multicultural multimedia devices with which Barry attempted to communicate with the same audience.”

William L. Pressly. James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning a New Public Art. Togher: Cork University Press, 2014. xx + 396 pp. €49.00, hardcover.

Reviewed by Alexander S. Gourlay

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