Charles Barry: Travel Sketching

Rachel Blissett

Charles Barry (1795–1860), Panoramic view of the Bay of Smyrna, 1818. Pencil on paper, 480 × 595 mm. DMC 1639.2.

Barry made this drawing at the invitation of David Baillie, an English gentleman of means who was travelling on board HMS Satellite. As Barry recorded in his journal: ‘went on board every afternoon to make a view of the town where I met with the greatest attention and kindness’. The attention to detail is minute and exact and lives up to the later estimation of David Roberts, who, writing after Barry’s death in 1860, esteemed him ‘most unquestionably our greatest architect and the only one who seemed to combine with his art that of a painter’. His talents as a topographical artist were also valued by Turner, who used many of his Holy Land sketches in making his illustrations for Finden’s Biblical Keepsake.

In 1818 Barry’s powers of sketching had – in the opinion of that most critical of men, with whom Barry travelled as far as Athens, Charles Lock Eastlake – greatly matured during his sojourn in Greece. Eastlake – never one to overstate – believed Barry reached new heights and powers whilst studying the monuments and landscape of Greece. Whilst in Athens Barry’s ability was first noticed by David Baillie – since it was there that their paths first crossed – and it was no accident that Baillie invited Barry abroad the Satellite to make this drawing, for he had a greater object in view; namely to invite Barry to be his architectural draughtsman and to accompany him on an extended tour of Egypt and the Holy Land. Having observed Barry at work, some months later, when they were both in Constantinople, he made the proposal and, after only a short delay, Barry accepted.

This meticulous drawing was used by Barry as the basis for a smaller watercolour sketch. In this drawing may be seen not only Barry’s attention to detail, but his ability to translate it exactly onto the page and yet make an arresting composition of a fabled city which has now been overwhelmed by the twin destructive forces of war and development.