Book on James Barry wins Berger prize

Richly-illustrated book on murals published by Cork University Press

An American professor's book about murals painted in 18th century London by Cork-born painter James Barry has won the 2015 William M B Berger Prize for British art history, a prestigious international award for art books.

James Barry's Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning a New Public Art by William L Pressly was published by Cork University Press last January. The £5,000 (€6,800) prize was awarded by the art critic Loyd Grossman at the Royal Society of Antiquaries in London before Christmas. The richly-illustrated 272-page book sells for €60.

James Barry (1741-1806) moved to London in his 20s and achieved great fame as an artist. He was commissioned to paint a series of six murals, known collectively as “The progress of human knowledge and culture”, for the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts.

According to the Cork University Press “although his works form the most impressive series of history paintings in Great Britain, they remain one of the British art world’s best-kept secrets, having attracted little attention from critics or the general public”. The murals, depicting classical images, were painted between 1777 and 1784.

William L Pressly is emeritus professor of 18th and 19th century European art at the University of Maryland. He is the author of two previous books about James Barry.

The annual prize as was established in 2001, to reward “excellence in the field of British art history”, in memory of the late William M B Berger, an American philanthropist who died in 1999.

It is administered by The British Art Journal and awarded jointly with the Berger Collection Educational Trust of Denver, Colorado.

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