Robert Carver, Landscape and Scene Painter

(fl. 1750-1791)

Landscape and Scene Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in Dublin, the son of Richard Carver (q.v.). He studied under his father and also under Robert West in the George's Lane School, and practised landscape painting in Dublin for some time. He resided in Lazar's Hill,* and from there sent landscapes, twenty in all, to the exhibitions of the Society of Artists in Dublin from 1765 to 1768. But it was as a scene painter that he particularly distinguished himself. He painted scenery for the Cork Theatre, and in the winter of 1754 he succeeded John Lewis (q.v.), as scene-painter at Smock Alley. He subsequently went to the new theatre in Crow Street, and there painted a variety of fine scenery for Spranger Barry; the most notable being that for "The Orphan of China," "The Indian Emperor," and "King Arthur" in 1763, which was long remembered in Dublin. On the revival at Crow Street on 29th November, 1768, of the popular old pantomime, "A Trip to the Dargle," a "new scene of the Waterfall painted by Mr. Carver" was shown for the first time. His abilities as a scenic artist attracted the notice of Garrick, who invited him to London to paint scenery for Drury Lane.

The little encouragement he had received in Dublin as a landscape painter, and the limited field for his talents as a scene-painter made him eagerly embrace such an opportunity of trying his powers in London. A musical benefit at the Crow Street Theatre supplied him with the necessary funds for his journey, and on his arrival in London, early in 1769, Garrick gave him the post of principal scene-painter at Drury Lane. There he was eminently successful; it is said that at the appearance of a particular scene of his there regularly followed three rounds of applause. Perhaps this was the scene known as "The Dublin Drop," considered his masterpiece, of which Edward Dayes ("Professional Sketches of Modern Artists") writes:—"The scene was a representation of a storm on a coast with a fine piece of water dashing against some rocks, and forming a sheet of foam truly terrific; this with the barren appearance of the surrounding country, and an old leafless tree or two, were the materials that composed a picture which would have done honour to the first artist and will be remembered as the finest painting that ever decorated a theatre."

Carver remained at Drury Lane until 1775, when Spranger Barry quarrelled with Garrick and migrated to Covent Garden. Carver, who was an old friend of Barry, followed in his train and transferred his services to Covent Garden, where he was employed until his death. He painted, with his Irish pupil, Henry Hodgins the scenery for the "Touchstone" in 1779; one of his great successes was the scenery for "The Castle of Andalusia," painted in 1781. In addition to his work at the theatres Carver continued to follow his profession as a landscape painter. As early as 1765, while in Dublin, he had sent pictures to the Free Society in London, and he began to exhibit at the Incorporated Society of Artists in 1770, continuing regularly to 1780. He became a Fellow in 1773, Vice-President in 1777, and President in 1778. His contributions were landscapes, both in oil and water-colour. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789 and 1790. Asa landscape painter he achieved considerable success, and his pictures were admired and favourably criticized. Carver was, as Pasquin tells us, a man with "all the generous and companionable qualities of an Irishman."

He was for many years a martyr to gout, and he died in his house, No. 13, Bow Street, Covent Garden, in November, 1791. Carver had two Irish pupils, Henry Hodgins and Whitmore, who succeeded him at Drury Lane.

* March, 1766. Died "on Lazar's Hill, Master John Carver, son of Mr. Robert Carver, an eminent Landscape Painter."

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