He made his debut in 1860 at Trutenau and appeared in Pest the following year, after which he had engagements of varying length in Graz, Mainz, Vienna, Prague, Riga, Mainz again, Leipzig, and Weimar. From 1870 to 1875 he was at the Stadt Theater of Frankfort-on-the-Main, and for the next five years at that of Hamburg, where he acted as director Several years after that, he traveled as a “star,” visiting London in 1881 with the Meiningen Court Company, and in 1882 making a successful tour of the United States.
From 1887 to 1894 he managed his Berliner Theater in Berlin, following which he made his home in Wiesbaden.
Barnay"s greatest talents were shown in tragedy. He excelled in roles such as Essex, Uriel Acosta, Othello, Antony, Tell, and Egmont.