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Holmes, C. J., Sir

    Full Name: Holmes, C. J., Sir

    Other Names:

    • C. J. Holmes

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1868

    Date Died: 1936

    Place Born: Preston, Lancashire, England, UK

    Place Died: Kensington, Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Career(s): art critics, directors (administrators), painters (artists), and publishers


    Burlington Magazine co-editor and director, National Gallery, London; painter. Holmes was the sone of Charles Rivington Holmes (d. 1873), a clergyman, and Mary Susan Dickson. Holmes attended Eton College beginning in 1883, and then won a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1887. At Oxford he met Walter Pater. He initially worked as London publisher’s assistant between 1898 and 1903. During this time, he taught himself to draw, and then lessons by Charles S. Ricketts (1866-1931) and etching under William Strang (1859-1921). In 1897, Laurence Binyon solicited his first art criticism in The Dome for 1897 on the Japanese woodcut artist Hiroshige. Another on Hokusai followed in 1899. Holmes shared an art criticism column with Roger Fry in the Athenaeum. In 1900 his paintings were exhibited for the first time with the New English Art Club. A 1901 article on Constable led to a full book Constable’s landscape painting and it’s influence in 1902. Holmes married his first cousin, the composer/violinist Florence Mary Hill Rivington (b. 1872/3) in 1903. The same year Fry approached Holmes to save the financially foundering Burlington Magazine, which Fry and others had started. Holmes joined Robert Dell as co-editor undertaking a serious campaign with Fry to bring the magazine solvency and art-historical repute. In 1904 Holmes was elected Slade professor of fine art, Oxford–an appointment Fry was hoping for–and a member of the New English Art Club, the same year as John Singer Sargent. His lectures at Oxford on modern art were developed and published as Notes on the Science of Picture-Making in 1909. Holmes wrote an important catalog to the Grafton Galleries Post-Impressionist exhibition, the first in England, organized by Fry. When Lionel Cust retired as director of the National Portrait Gallery in 1909, Holmes succeeded him, resigning his position from the Burlington Magazine. At the National Portrait Gallery, his artists’ skills at rehanging the collection and we greatly admired. He resigned as Slade Professor in 1910, publishing a second group of formerly Slade lectures as Notes on the Art of Rembrandt in 1911. Following the retirement of Charles Holroyd from the National Gallery in 1916, Holmes reluctantly accepted the director position. Acquisitions at the National Gallery were subject to a review board of amateurs; even one member alone could negate a selection. Holmes worked within this arrangement as best he could. He continued to fundamentally change the museum for public access, including reorganizing the photograph and publications departments. He personally launched an Illustrated Guide to the National Gallery in 1921 to interest laity. The same year he was knighted. New catalogs on Old Masters and Modern Art in the National Gallery appeared between 1923 and 1927. He contributed an essay to the 60th birthday Festschrift of Max J. Friedländer in 1927. In 1928 Holmes retired from the National Gallery, testifying about the frustrations with the acquisitions vetting process at the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries the same year. He was elected an honorary fellow of Brasenose College in 1931. Holmes wrote an autobiography, Self and Partners in 1936, the year of his death. His grandfather was the antiquary John Holmes (1800-1854) and his uncle, Sir Richard Holmes (1835-1911), librarian at Windsor Castle. Holmes’ approach to art history was as that an artist. He focused on the artist’s materials, such as his “Leonardo da Vinci” (1919), An Introduction to Italian Painting (1929), and A Grammar of the Arts (1931). His administrative abilities, honed from his early years in the publishing field, brought Museum publications to a higher standard.

    Selected Bibliography

    Constable and his Influence on Landscape Painting. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1902; Notes on the Post-impressionist Painters, Grafton Galleries, 1910-11. London: Chatto & Windus, 1909; The National Gallery: Italian Schools. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1923; The National Gallery: the Netherlands, Germany, Spain. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1925; “Three Early Italian Frescos.” Festschrift für Max J. Friedländer: Zum 60. Geburtstag. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann 1927, pp. 209-212; The National Gallery: France and England. London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1927;and Tatlock, Robert Rattray, and Tyler, R. Spanish Art: an Introductory Review of Architecture, Painting, Sculpture. London: 1927.


    Holmes, Charles J. Self and Partners (Mostly Self): Being the Reminiscences of C. J. Holmes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936; [obituaries:] Baker, C. H. Collins. “Sir Charles Holmes.” Burlington Magazine 70, no. 407 (February 1937): 93-94; Child, Harold. “Sir Charles Holmes: An Appreciation.” Burlington Magazine 70, no. 406 (January1937): 3-4; “Sir Charles Holmes Landscape Painter And Art Critic.” The Times (London) December 08, 1936, p. 11.


    "Holmes, C. J., Sir." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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