Barber, Rupert (1719–72), miniaturist, was born in Dublin, where he was baptised 20 September 1719. He was the son of Rupert Barber, Dublin woollen-draper, and Mary Barber (qv), who published poetry in the 1730s, a friend and protégée of Jonathan Swift (qv). The Barber family lived at Werburgh St. from 1705 to c.1724 (and possibly later). Mary Barber cultivated many important friends and patrons for her children. From 1735 to 1739 Rupert Barber was in London, where he was apprenticed to the painter, collector, and dealer Arthur Pond (1701–58). It is not known who taught Barber the complicated technique of painting portraits on enamel but he was taught pastel drawing by Pond. Both Mary Barber and Pond recommended that he should begin his career as a miniaturist at Bath, which was by then an established centre for miniature portraiture. He may have worked in England before returning to Ireland. Barber was established in Dublin as a miniaturist working on enamel by 1742 and in that year he married Bridget Wilson, ‘an agreeable young lady with a handsome fortune’ (Faulkner's Dublin Journal, 8–11 May 1742). She was the niece of Dr Patrick Delany (qv), dean of Down, whose portrait by Barber is in the NGI collection. In Dublin Barber was greatly encouraged by Mrs Delany (qv), who introduced him to many important patrons and commissioned him to paint portraits of her family and wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Through Mrs Delany Barber was commissioned to paint a portrait of Mrs Donnellan (qv) (d. 1762) (Ulster Museum), Lord Masserene, Lady Stanley and many more. Barber lived with his family in a cottage in the garden of Delville, the Delanys' house at Glasnevin, Dublin, where he had a studio. Mrs Delany gives an account of Barber's working methods and patrons and makes many references to ‘Rupy and Biddie’ and their three children in her diaries, correspondence, and autobiography.
Barber was a virtuoso enamellist. He mastered the technique and painted some of the finest enamels of the 1740s and 1750s. An outstanding example of his work is his portrait of William Thompson, a Dublin beggar and character, supposedly 114 years old, painted in 1744 (Latter-Schlesinger collection of portrait miniatures, New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana). The complexities of the enamelling process and the difficulties of firing the enamel in a kiln required enamellists to work from drawings. Barber's drawing of Thompson is in the collection of the NGI. This is an extremely rare survival from the 1740s. The sketch was done from life as a preparatory drawing, and an outline from it would have been traced on the enamel surface.
Barber had another source of income: he bought prints from Arthur Pond, his former master in London, which he sold in Ireland. In 1753 Barber was awarded a premium of £20 by the Dublin Society for making phials and green glass. He was also involved in a distillery. Barber taught his younger brother Lucius Barber (1720–67) the art of painting portraits on enamel. Lucius had a successful career in London as a miniaturist. Their other brother, Constantine (b. 1714), practised medicine in Dublin and became president of the College of Physicians of Ireland. Rupert Barber died in 1772.