Exhibited: Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1921; ‘Sea Change: Art in St Ives Between the Wars’, Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, 11 September – 20 November, 2010.
Peace Night, 1919, Claude Barry captures a momentous period in history with extraordinary beauty, serenity and heightened feeling.
In 1908, the newlyweds Claude Francis Barry and Doris Hume-Spry joined artists Laura Knight, Augustus John and Alfred Munnings, who had all settled in St Ives. Here Barry became an active member of the St Ives Club, later becoming club treasurer, and learnt to paint with a looser, more individual style. With the outbreak of the First World War, the artistic community of St Ives was largely disbanded with many of the artists called away for military service. Possibly on account of his Pacifist convictions, or perhaps his mental health, Barry was not conscripted to fight but instead assigned to agricultural labour, to support the production of supplies for troops at the front. This left him in a prime position to record war on the Homefront.
Although hostilities ceased with the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the First World War did not end officially until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919. In Britain, Peace Day was celebrated on Saturday 19 July with a Victory Parade of unprecedented scale. Reporting on the celebrations, The Sphere wrote that:
‘Nowhere during the peace rejoicings were the crowds massed more thickly than in Trafalgar Square, which were filled to overflowing by people dancing and generally making merry. Some enterprising folk had found a place in the trees, the better to enjoy the sight of the moving, singing throng below. Towering above the waiting crowd was the column, wreathed with laurel and with red and white bunting and long naval pennants fluttering in the breeze.’ August 2nd, 1919.
Barry’s lifelong exploration of the French Pointillist technique – separating colours into dots which form vibrant tones across the picture surface – make him one of the key exponents of this style in 20th century British Art. In his paintings of the First and Second World Wars, with their trademark searchlights over London, he created his most memorable cycle of works.