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Satan, Sin and Death: ‘Death and Sin met by Satan on his Return from Earth’

  • Listed: January 1, 1970 12:00 am
  • Title: Satan, Sin and Death: 'Death and Sin met by Satan on his Return from Earth'
  • Artist: James Barry, R.A.
  • Origins: Cork
  • Format (cm): 59 x 41.6 cm.
  • Format (in): 23¼ x 16 3/8 in.
  • Material:
  • Last Sale price: 47 500,00
  • Last Sale date:
Satan, Sin and Death: ‘Death and Sin met by Satan on his Return from Earth’


James Barry, R.A. (Cork, Ireland 1741-1806 London) Satan, Sin and Death: ‘Death and Sin met by Satan on his Return from Earth’ inscribed ‘Picture XXII Milton Gallery’ (lower left on the backing sheet) pencil, brush and brown ink, grey and brown wash heightened with touches of white 23¼ x 16 3/8 in. (59 x 41.6 cm.)
Possibly James Barry (+); Christie’s, London, 10 April 1807, part of lot 54 (£4.6s to Denham). Susan, Countess of Guilford. with Galerie Bollag, Lausanne.
This hitherto unpublished drawing represents an important addition to Barry’s preparatory sketches illustrating John Milton’s Paradise Lost , part of his scheme for a ‘Milton Gallery’ begun in about 1792. In its large scale, Michelangelesque nude figures, close focus and boldness of execution it matches four other large drawings executed for the series of engravings (see W.L. Pressly, The Life and Art of James Barry , New Haven and London, 1981, pls. 103, 113, 114 and 116; W.L. Pressly, James Barry: The Artist as Hero , exhib. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1983, nos. 49, 53 and 54, all illus.; and M. Phillips, ‘James Barry, Artist & Printmaker’, in T. Dunne, James Barry 1741-1806, ‘The Great Historical Painter’ , exhib. cat., Cork, Crawford Art Gallery, 2005, nos. DR 7, 9 and 11, all illus.). Work on the scheme appears to have begun with six small sketches drawn in pen and ink and black chalk on spare sheets of paper advertising Barry’s etchings after his paintings in the Society of Arts and dated 23 April 1792 (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum). The series is then mentioned in a letter by Barry to the Earl of Radnor, 23 December 1794, in which he states that ‘The work is in good forwardness, and though at present a little interrupted by the consequences of the unlucky visit of the thieves who broke into my house, is nevertheless, with God’s blessing, likely to go on’. By 1799, however, Barry was less optimistic; in a letter of 4 August addressed to King George III and published in the Morning Post for 3 December he laments that the project ‘though so far advanced, has been, notwithstanding, unfortunately turned to the wall, with every melancholy appearance of abandonment and neglect’. He adds an attack on imitations of these works by, apparently, Edward Francis Burney. In the end he only produced two oil sketches and some dozen engravings including Milton dictating to Edward the Quaker of circa 1804-5. The number ‘XXII’ on the mount of the present drawing may be a reflection of Barry’s original intentions. (Pressly, op.cit. , 1981, pp. 153-4, gives a partial list of the subjects intended to be included). The etching of Satan, Sin and Death is close in size and treatment to those of Satan and his Legions hurling Defiance towards the Vault of Heaven and The Discovery of Adam and Eve , and differs in certain details from the drawing. In particular the profile of Satan’s head is shown in full, not partly obscured by his shoulder, and the key to Hell hangs on Sin’s right hip rather than centrally (the engravings are illustrated in Pressly, op.cit. , 1981, pls. 109 and 119). The passage illustrated by the present drawing occurs in Paradise Lost , Book II, line 630 ff. Satan arrives at the Gates of Hell which he finds defended by his daughter Sin, in the center, and Death, on the left. Death attempts to oppose Satan with violence, but Sin intervenes, revealing that Death is the product of her incestuous union with Satan. The subject was a common one in the 18th Century in both illustrated texts and independent pictures and engravings, the painting by Hogarth of circa 1735-40 being the most famous; engraved, 1767, 1792 and 1794 (Tate Britain; see E. Einberg and J. Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters from 1675-1709 (Tate Gallery Collections Vol. II), London, 1988, pp. 88-90, illus. in colour). In addition Pressly sees the specific influence of the colored engraving of 1792 by James Gillray on the depiction of Satan as seen from behind ( op. cit. , 1981, pp. 161-2, pl. 11

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