Also known as
J. G. Carr,
J. H. Carr,
J. A. Carse,
James H. Carse
A well travelled painter, in 1876 Carse was regarded as 'perhaps the best painter in the colony' with his landscapes, depicting locations from all around Australia, receiving recognition and awards at numerous exhibitions.
painter, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, a son of Alexander Carse ('Old Carse’), a painter of popular Scottish genre scenes active between 1802 and 1838. He was undoubtedly named after the Scottish animal painter, James Howe, a contemporary of Alexander’s. James Howe Carse was variously reported as being 81 or 82 years old when he died, which puts his year of birth at 1818 or 1819 although neither his birth certificate nor other family details have been located. Another son of Alexander’s, William Carse (1815?-53), was educated at the Royal Academy Schools in London where he took a first prize for drawing, but J.H. Carse was trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of which his father had been a founding member. From 1860 to 1862, according to Graves, he exhibited landscape paintings in London, including An Old Mill on the Avon near Bathgate, Looking towards the Firth of Forth (for sale at £15) at Suffolk Street in 1860 when he was living at 24 Edward Terrace, Caledonian Road North, London.
Carse’s date of arrival in Australia is uncertain but was probably 1867, when he is known to have been in South Australia; a sketchy, signed watercolour of the Kapunda copper mines (ML) bears this date. He had evidently moved to Victoria and visited New Zealand before 1869, when seven of his landscape paintings — some Victorian and some New Zealand subjects — were shown at the Melbourne Public Library Exhibition. That same year J. Twycross was offering for sale at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute Exhibition the three oils by Carse he had previously shown in Melbourne: Farmyard (DL?), Falls of the Campaspe , and an unidentified landscape. In June 1869 the Colonial Monthly noted that there were 'At Mr Hind’s, three pictures of great merit by Mr Carse’ – two 'charming landscape drawings’ of Riddell’s Creek and a swamp near Clunes, and a view of Mount Beckwith. His painting Riddell’s Creek, Mount Macedon (1869, LT), formed the basis of a wood-engraving which appeared in the Illustrated Melbourne Post on 27 December 1869. Not long afterwards Carse was apparently working on drawings for Edwin Carton Booth’s Australia Illustrated . The engravings in this publication ascribed to 'J. Carr’ are almost certainly by him and suggest that he travelled widely. The subjects include King George Sound (WA), Townsville and Gladstone (Qld) and Port Darwin (NT). Similarly, he may be credited with two New Zealand views catalogued at the 1869 Geelong Mechanics Institute Exhibition as being by 'J.G. Carr’.
A foundation member of the Victorian Academy of Arts at Melbourne in 1870, Carse was in New South Wales the following year. Again he appeared under a variety of accidental aliases: Sands Sydney Directory lists J.H. Carr (1877), James Carr (1880), J. Cars (1882) and J.A. Carse (1883). He became a foundation member of the New South Wales Academy of Art too and was awarded a certificate of merit at its first exhibition (1872) for his large oil, Weatherboard Falls :
one of the best things in the exhibition … there being a wildness and sublimity in those deep valleys, where the mist floats in the air, as yet uninfluenced by the rays of the sun when they have just begun to gild the distant mountains.
At the second exhibition in 1873, competing against oil paintings by Chester Earles , H. van den Houten , E. Montagu Scott , E. Wake Cook and others, Carse won the Hon. John Campbell 's prize of £25 for Loch Oich and Inverary Castle, Scotland . It had a repeat showing that year with the NSW Agricultural Society, together with three other oil landscapes. When next he exhibited with the Academy of Art, in 1875, he received a further certificate of merit for Bega Swamps . ('Dr. E. Gerard’, the painter von Guérard , loaned two of his six oils shown.) The same year, two of several oils shown at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition, Creek Scene, Tilba Tilba and Wallaga Lake, near Bega, New South Wales , were awarded first class certificates and forwarded to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition; two paintings shown with the Agricultural Society of New South Wales were highly commended; and an oil in the Academy of Art exhibition won a certificate of merit.
In 1876 Carse showed eight paintings with the Academy and was awarded a gold medal for another view of Weatherboard Falls and a group of landscapes. A pair of unusual genre scenes — The Morning Herald (p.c.) and The Evening News (unlocated) — were also included, each for sale at 30 guineas. Later that year Carse was labelled 'perhaps the best painter in the colony’ and awarded a prize for Wallaga Lake by the Agricultural Society of New South Wales despite a detail of light in the picture being judged 'unnatural’. Nine oil landscapes were shown with the academy in 1877, the best being a view of the waterfall at Duck Creek, according to the Sydney Mail : 'In all the others he has used too much of the usual green and brown and treated them in too conventional a style’. When he exhibited The Jump-Up, Road into Burragorang (1879, o/c, AGNSW) and Island at Junction of Cox and Burragorang Rivers at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, his style was again criticised. The Sydney Morning Herald 's critic noted: 'That persevering artist, Mr J.H. Carse, sends two landscapes, both from the neighbourhood of Burragorang, in this colony, and both treated in his well-known style. Mr Carse copies faithfully, but he has too great a tendency to spoil his pictures by excess of bright greens unattended by cool shadows, and from that fault these two works are not exempt, though it is not so perceptible in these instances as in some other pictures by the same artist.’ His View at Marrickville near Cooks River (offered for sale by Bridget McDonnell in 2001, via the Cowlishaw Collection) is also dated 1879.
He was a foundation member of the Art Society of New South Wales, formed in 1880 by a group of professional artists seceding from the Academy of Art. His paintings shown at the society’s exhibitions in 1880-85 were mainly views of the south coast of New South Wales. Reviewing the inaugural exhibition, the Sydney Morning Herald listed 10 oils by Carse, including a triptych, Wallaga Lake , Scene at Wogonga , Scene at Tilba Tilba , deemed 'in his best style’.
From then on the number of paintings he entered in the Art Society’s exhibitions decreased. The Sydney Morning Herald noted that he had 'only sent three pictures’ to the third exhibition: a view of cattle crossing a bridge in North Wales, Riddell’s Creek, Mount Macedon and Coast Scene, near Bermagui . All were familiar subjects. He entered just one painting, Wallaga Lake, Mount Dromedary , in the society’s fifth exhibition, described in the Sydney Morning Herald as 'a charming palette-knife sketch, admirable in colour and perspective’ (except that 'the water on the left seems to have a downhill tendency, but this may be because the picture was not properly framed’). His three paintings in the sixth annual exhibition were most favourably reviewed by the Herald and the Illustrated Sydney News , especially a moonlight view of Bushrangers’ Bay, Bass Point, Shellharbour (Illawarra) 'done with the palette knife’. But the Sydney Mail lamented: 'Mr J.H. Carse seldom paints up to his best now. There are works of this veteran artist in many salerooms and stores of the city which some day will be prized as gems of colonial collections; but they are of a different order from those he places in this exhibition.’ Three of his New South Wales landscapes were included in the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition; he showed two Victorian views, On the Yarra and Waterfall , at the 1884 Victorian Jubilee Exhibition.
Carse worked on both a large and a small scale, using cigar-box lids for plein air oil sketches from the 1870s onwards, a decade before these became identified with the Heidelberg School’s 1889 9 × 5 Impression Exhibition. During the latter part of his long life he lived at Mosman Bay, probably with his long-time friend, the painter George Podmore. He died in 1900 from the effects of continued alcoholism. His work, predominantly in oils, is quietly romantic and rarely rises to the grandiose heights of a Piguenit . Nor was he overly preoccupied with metaphysical concerns like von Guérard, although the interrelationship of humans and nature is a recurrent theme. His reverence for nature appears especially evident in his paintings of lonely backwaters and stormy coastal scenes. Children become symbols of innocence in the bush, while Aborigines are presented as an integral part of their unspoilt surroundings. His early paintings were quite detailed, but in the 1880s they appear to have been more loosely painted and less laboured than those by most of his contemporaries. Unfortunately, by the late 1880s they had also become varied in quality and often repetitive, with stock subjects recurring.