The son of a tailor, George Barret first trained as a staymaker but then found work colouring prints for Silcock, a publisher in Dublin. In 1747 he was awarded first prize at the Dublin Society’s School, where he studied under Robert West.
Among Barret’s earliest works is a group of landscapes (National Gallery, Dublin) painted for Joseph Leeson, later 1st Earl of Miltown, in the 1740s and 1750s as architectural decorations for Russborough House, Co. Wicklow, built in 1742-55 by Richard Castle. They are rather stiff Italianate views, with somewhat contrived compositions. In the 1750s, perhaps through the influence of Edmund Burke, Barret embarked on a series of topographical paintings of the Dargle Valley, Powerscourt, Castletown and other locations around Dublin. These works established his reputation, and he moved to London in 1763.
The following year he won a 50-guinea premium for a painting exhibited at the Free Society of Artists, and he was soon taken up by English patrons. In 1765-67 he made ten views of the park and house at Welbeck Abbey, Notts, for William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. After becoming a founder-member of the Royal Academy in 1768 he carried out a similar commission for Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch, recording the mountainous scenery of Dalkeith Park, Lothian, in such pictures as A Rocky River Scene (private collection), which were shown at the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1771.
Despite his success, it seems he was incompetent in managing his money. By the end of the 1770s, he was close to bankruptcy but was supported in these straits by William Locke who paid his debts and commissioned a decorative scheme for Norbury Park to be executed in collaboration with Sawrey Gilpin, Cipriani and Benedetto Pastorini. Burke also came to the rescue using his position as Paymaster General to appoint him official painter to the Chelsea Hospital.
Barret died in 1784 and is buried in Paddington Green Church.
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