David Carr (1915-68)
Carr was a contemporary and friend of perhaps the most famous of Cedric Morris’s pupils, Lucian Freud (1922-2011), whose work he collected...
David Carr was described by one critic as ‘a lost genius in the canon of Post-War British artists, a pioneering creator who succeeded in his quest to paint man's epic struggle for individual identity’. Few more poignant words can have been spoken about Carr, for his lack of fame during his own life was due to one of his most winning qualities – his modesty – and was exacerbated by his premature death when he was at the height of his powers...
In the painterly impasto of its brushwork, sharp contours and clearly outlined forms, the present work reflects the influence that was made on Carr’s early oeuvre by his teacher, Cedric Morris (1889-1982). The subject, too, was inspired by Morris. Recent research has uncovered the location of this scene to be Doelan in Brittany, which Carr had been encouraged to visit by his teacher. It was a frequent subject for many of the faux naif painters of this period not least Christopher Wood (1901-1930), who had also stayed in the town. Carr’s success comes in making the houses and the lighthouse speak with a striking eloquence, imbuing them with an uncanny almost human presence. Perhaps the key to understanding this work lies in a letter that Carr later wrote to L.S. Lowry (1887-1976); ‘unlike you’, he wrote’, ‘I try to express myself through the buildings alone; the boats, the cranes and the railway trucks are the monsters who live in my world and people it’.
Carr had left Oxford when only in his fourth term to study under Morris; a trip to Italy – his first abroad – had opened his eyes to art and convinced him of his need to paint. This decision set him against the wishes of his father, who had wanted his son to enter the unglamorous but profitable family business of biscuit manufacturing. The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing run by Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978) at their home could not have been better suited for the nurturing of his artistic talent. The school provided a febrile creative atmosphere in which energetic and ambitious young students could discuss shared passions and encourage one other in their artistic development. They encouraged and supported by Morris, whose great affection for his pupil Carr is attested by the two portraits he made of him, one – a double portrait with his future wife Barbara – can be seen in the Tate collection.
Carr was a contemporary and friend of perhaps the most famous of Morris’s pupils, Lucian Freud (1922-2011), whose work he collected. When the first school, at Dedham, was burned down in a spectacular fire (that provided artistic fodder to the students) it was a discarded cigarette butt left by either Carr or Freud that had started it. Carr’s friendship with Freud was the first of many that he made with the towering artistic figures of the age. The most notable of these were Carr’s friendships with Prunella Clough and Lowry, two figures virtually synonymous with twentieth-century British art, who provided encouragement and sensitive interpretation of his work.
 Bryan Robertson and Ronald Alley, David Carr: The Discovery of an Artist (London, 1987), p. 8