The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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William Hookham Carpenter, 1792-1866

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1792.03.02
Place of Birth: Bruton Street, London
Date of Death: 1866.07.12
Place of Death: British Museum, London


William Hookham Carpenter, the only son of James Carpenter, a bookseller and publisher on Old Bond Street, was Keeper of the Print Room at the British Museum from 1845 to 1866. In 1817 he married the portrait painter Margaret Sarah Geddes, the second daughter of Captain Alexander Geddes of Alderbury, Wiltshire.


Carpenter began as a publisher on Lower Brook Street, publishing Spence's Anecdotes (ed. Singer), and the first part of Burnet's Practical Hints on Painting. He later joined his father's business. A friend of the etcher Andrew Geddes, and a keen appreciator of art, he spent much time studying the prints and drawings of the great masters in the British Museum. His father also had a large collection of paintings, and publishing widely on art, so he was well acquainted with many artists and engravers. For a while he acted as secretary to the Artists' Benevolent Fund. In 1844 he published a memoir and descriptive catalogue of the etchings of Anthony Van Dyck, and the following year he was appointed Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.

At the British Museum Carpenter was responsible for buying a large number of etchings by modern painters and drawings by the old masters. His acquisitions included the Coningham collection of early Italian engravings (1845); Rembrandt etchings and Dutch drawings from the collections of Lord Aylesford and Baron Verstolk (1847); old master drawings from the collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence; Michelangelo drawings from the Buonarroti family collection; and a volume of drawings by Jacopo Bellini (1855). He also bought a series of JW's etchings in 1863 (#11109).

In 1847 Carpenter was elected a member of the Academy of Fine Arts at Amsterdam, in 1852 a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (serving on the council 1857-8), and in 1856 a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. He published A Guide to the Drawings and Prints exhibited to the Public in the King's Library in 1858.


W., W., 'William Hookham Carpenter', 1886, Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997.