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William L. Pressly, James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning a New Public Art

Alexander S. Gourlay

This book inspires grandiosity. I am moved to prophesy that James Barry’s greatest exponent will always be William Pressly. Articulate, learned, and judicious, profoundly sympathetic with his subject, appreciative of Barry’s genius and yet clear-eyed about his limitations, Pressly has taken Barry as seriously as the artist could have hoped, and persuasively argues that we should do so as well. With this huge, lavishly illustrated volume, Pressly crowns a stack of books and essays on Barry and his contemporaries, fully elucidating for the first time the spectacularly ambitious (and covertly seditious) program underlying Barry’s masterpiece, the suite of monumental paintings he created to decorate (and consecrate) the Great Room in the Adelphi, the building that houses the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.

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