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Sir Charles Barry

(1795—1860) architect


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(1795–1860).

London-born English architect and fine draughtsman. In Rome and Florence he studied Renaissance architecture, and these investigations were to be of great importance in the development of his work. He set up his practice in London, and designed several competent Gothic Revival churches including St Peter's, Brighton (1824–8), and Holy Trinity, Cloudesley Square, Islington (1826–8), before turning his attention to public buildings, where he would demonstrate his mastery of Classicism. The Royal Institution of Fine Arts (now the City Art Gallery), Manchester (1824–35), in a Grecian style, was followed by the Travellers' Club, Pall Mall, London (1830–32)—a refined essay in the Quattrocento style pioneered by von Klenze in Munich a decade earlier), which was to mark the beginning of the Italianate Renaissance Revival. The Reform Club, next door to the Travellers', followed in 1838–41, a vast Cinquecento palazzo, which has a fine glass-roofed cortile of the greatest sumptuousness, and signals Barry's transition from the use of low relief to robust high relief, culminating in his Bridgewater House, Green Park, London (1846–51). At this time, he tended to experiment with Northern Renaissance architecture, the most outstanding examples being the Jacobethan Highclere Castle, Hants. (1842–c.1850), and Free Cinquecento Halifax Town Hall (1859–62), the latter completed by his son, E. M. Barry.

Barry's most celebrated building is the Palace of Westminster and Houses of Parliament (1835–60), the ingenious and complex plan of which is essentially Classical. Barry would have preferred an Italianate design, but was obliged to use the Gothic or Elizabethan styles by the rules of the commissioning authorities. Indeed, the façade to the river is symmetrical, in a late-Georgian manner, and could easily have been clothed in Classical garb. The importance of this vast building, however, lies in its Gothic Revival Picturesque composition and exquisite Perpendicular detail inside and out (mostly designed by A. W. N. Pugin). The choice of Gothic for such a prestigious building gave considerable impetus to the Gothic Revival, while the work earned Barry his Knighthood in 1852.

Barry's rich clients enabled him to produce buildings that were not only exceedingly grand, but opulently detailed, and some of his work tended to over-lavishness after 1840. His was a significant figure in garden-history: he placed sumptuous flower-gardens around the mansions he designed, thus replacing the subtle Georgian concept of the house set within a Picturesque landscape.

Barry (1867);Colvin (1995);Colvin (ed.) (1973);Hitchcock (1954, 1977);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Port (ed.) (1976);Whiffen (1950)

Subjects: Architecture.


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