Rupert Barber, Crayon and Miniature Painter

(fl. 1736-1772)

Crayon and Miniature Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

His father, Jonathan Barber, was a woollen-draper in Capel Street, Dublin; his mother was Mary Barber the poetess, the friend and protegée of Swift. Rupert studied art in Bath. In a letter to Swift dated Bath, 3rd November, 1736, Mrs. Barber writes: "My son, who is learning to paint, goes on well and, if he be in the least approved of, he may do very well at Bath; for I never yet saw a painter that came hither fail of getting more business than he could do, let him be ever so indifferent." What success he had at Bath does not appear; but by 1743 he had returned to Dublin and was practising as a miniature painter in enamel. In "Faulkner's Journal" (Nov. 12, 1743) are lines "to Mr. Rupert Barber on his Painting in Enamel":

"Bless'd youth whom happy talents grace,

Time shall no more thy art deface,

Thy genius now will be displayed

In colours that can never fade."

He was befriended by Mrs. Delany and was given a house at the end of the garden at Delville, near Dublin, the residence of the Delanys, where he worked at his enamelling. Writing in March, 1746, Mrs. Delany says that Barber had just finished another portrait of her in enamel; "Lord Masserene sits to him on Monday, and Mr. Bristowe has promised to prevail, if possible, with Lord and Lady Chesterfield to sit to him, and that will bring him into fashion. He is very industrious and deserves to be encouraged." He was in London in 1748 and in Bath in 1752 when he did an enamel miniature of Mrs. Donnellan, "as well painted as any of Zincke's," writes Mrs. Delany; "he is very much improved and has as much business as he can do." Barber also painted portraits in oil. In "Faulkner's Journal" (February, 1750, No. 2392) are lines "to Mr. Rupert Barber, enamel painter, on seeing some portraits of his painting in oil colours":

"Some Painters in a single branch,

The Pencil's force have shown;

But to excel in various ways,

Is given to thee alone."

He appears also to have experimented in glass-making, for in 1753 the Dublin Society awarded him a premium of twenty pounds "for making phials and green glass." In 1760 he was in Dublin, was afterwards in London, and again in 1772 in Dublin, where, as appears from a letter to Mrs. Delany, he had been engaged with "a very artful person" in a distillery, by which he incurred a heavy debt. The date of his death has not been found. He married in March, 1742, a Miss Wilson, "a very pretty, prudent young woman," writes Mrs. Delany, in 1746; "they have a comical little girl of three years old, not pretty, but a smart girl, and he proposes to make her a mistress of his art as soon as she is capable of learning." Barber had also a son who studied in the Dublin Society's school, and was afterwards an officer in the artillery. Constantine Barber, who practised medicine in Dublin and became President of the College of Physicians, was Rupert's brother. Among Barber's known or recorded works are:

Mrs. Delany. Enamel.

Mrs. Donnellan. Enamel, 1752.

Lord Masserene. Enamel, 1746.

Edward Smyth, m.d. Engraved in mezzotint by Valentine Green, 1779.

Jonathan Swift. Head, in profile, life size. Chalk. [T. P. Le Fanu, Abington, Bray.] This portrait belonged to Dr. Richard Meade, the eminent physician and virtuoso, of Great Ormond Street, London, and was sold by Messrs. Langford and Baker in March, 1754, for £4 14s. It is the original of the etching by Benjamin Wilson, which forms the frontispiece to Lord Orrery's "Remarks on Swift." A copy by Sir T. A. Jones is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jonathan Swift. Bust portrait, in oval; in chalk and water colour on paper [National Gallery of Ireland]. This is apparently a copy from one of Bindon's portraits. It is mentioned in Scott's "Life of Swift" as belonging to Dr. Edward Hill, Professor of Physicks in Trinity College, Dublin. After the doctor's death in 1830 it passed to the family of its late owner, Dr. Hill's great granddaughter, Miss Curtis, of Portlaw, County Waterford, who sold it in London in 1913. It was formerly laid down on an oak panel. Mr. J. G. Swift MacNeill, M.P., has a miniature which resembles Miss Curtis's portrait, and is probably by Barber. In the collection of the Duke of Buccleugh is an enamel miniature of Swift ascribed to Bindon. It is probably a copy by Barber.

William Thompson, a Dublin beggar, aged 114 in 1744. Enamel, signed. Lent by R. Lumsden Propert to the Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition in 1887.

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