The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Joseph Williams Comyns Carr, 1849-1916

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1849.03.01
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1916.12.12
Place of Death:


Joseph William Comyns Carr was a barrister, art critic and playright. He married Alice Vansittart on 15 December 1873.


Comyns Carr graduated in law from London University in 1869 but soon afterwards took to journalism and became drama critic for the Echo. In 1873 he became art critic for the Pall Mall Gazette and in 1875 the English editor of L'Art. He also wrote for the Saturday Review, the World and the Manchester Guardian and was the first editor of English Illustrated Magazine. Comyns Carr wrote a number of books on contemporary and old master art, as well as monographic works on artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Frederick Walker and Sir Hubert von Herkomer. Sir Coutts Lindsay appointed him a co-director (with Charles Hallé) of the Grosvenor Gallery, having read his favourable reviews of the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Burne-Jones. However in 1888 he and Hallé left the Grosvenor Gallery to set up the rival New Gallery on Regent Street, taking with them Lindsay's greatest asset, Burne-Jones.

JW, who exhibited frequently at the Grosvenor Gallery from its opening in 1876 until 1884, was friendly with Comyns Carr, whom he nicknamed 'Jo'. Following the Whistler v. Ruskin trial in November 1878 Comyns Carr offered to assist JW with expenses (#08747). As a mark of gratitude JW sent him a copy of his Whistler, James McNeill, Whistler v. Ruskin: Art and Art Critics, London, 1878. Responding to JW's objection to art critics in this pamphlet, Comyns Carr wittily suggested that audiences should be banned from clapping as they have no right to interfere with the theatrical performance (#00542). In the early to mid 1880s JW sought to introduce him to his pupil Mortimer Menpes (#10005).

Like JW, Comyns Carr was a member of the Arts Club and in 1882 both appended their names to a petition to the Committee of the Arts Club that the Parliamentary and General Telegraphic despatches be made available to the Club during the sitting of Parliament (#13336). In December 1887 Comyns Carr was among those that JW, as President of the Royal Society of British Artists, sought to invite to the private view of the Winter Exhibition (#13403). In 1887/88 JW expressed his displeasure to Comyns Carr at having found himself omitted from a guest list at the Grosvenor Gallery [#00541].

Comyns Carr was also the author of dramatic works such as A Fireside Hamlet, The United Pair, The Naturalist, The Friar, Forgiveness, King Arthur, Oliver Twist and Tristram and Iseult. In 1895 his play King Arthur, which had been inspired by the writings of Thomas Malory and Alfred Tennyson, as well as the visual images of the Pre-Raphaelites, was produced by Henry Irving in the Lyceum Theatre, with music composed by Arthur Sullivan and artwork designed by Edward Burne-Jones.


Carr, J. Comyns, Coasting Bohemia, London, 1914; Carr, J. Comyns, Drawings by the Old Masters, London, 1878; Carr, J. Comyns, Essays on Art, London, 1879; Carr, J. Comyns, Examples of Contemporary Art, London, 1878; Carr, J. Comyns, Exhibition of Works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones London, 1898; Carr, J. Comyns, Frederick Walker: An Essay, London, 1885; Carr, J. Comyns, Hubert Herkomer, London, 1882; Carr, J. Comyns, The Ideals of Painting, London, 1971; Carr, J. Comyns, Some Eminent Victorians; Personal Recollections in the World of Art and Letters, London, 1908; Carr, J. Comyns, Papers on Art, London, 1885; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, Faust, London, 1908, text adapted by Stephen Phillips and J. Comyns Carr; [Comyns Carr, Alice Vansittart,] J. Comyns Carr: Stray Memories by His Wife, London, 1920; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61.