The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Gorman Wills, 1828-1891

Nationality: Irish
Date of Birth: 1828.01.28
Place of Birth: Blackwell Lodge, Kilherny
Date of Death: 1891.12.13
Place of Death: Guy's Hospital, London


William Gorman Wills was a playwright and painter.


Wills specialised in history and portrait painting. He was a member of The Arts Club from 1879 until 1880. He was also an extremely prolific playwright. His plays were to be seen in London theatres such as the Lyceum, Adelphi, Olympic, Princess's, Haymarket, Drury Lane, Duke's, Prince's, Globe, Court and Criterion throughout the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. Henry Irving was frequently his leading man in his Lyceum productions, as for example in Charles I in September 1872; Eugene Aram in April 1873; and Don Quixote in May 1895.

Wills was close friends with the architect and designer E. W. Godwin and his name features prominently in Godwin's diaries. Godwin's knowledge of Greek costume was useful to Wills for his historical dramas. He designed the sets and costumes for Claudian, which was produced by Wilson Barrett for the Princess's Theatre in December 1883. Wilde was full of praise for the production. Godwin also made designs for Juana, commissioned by the Polish actress Helena Modjeska in 1880, and Rienzi, which was never produced, but for which in 1887 Irving gave £800 for rights to use the script. At Godwin's death in October 1886, Wills wrote a sonnet in his memory, intended as an epitaph for a memorial stone. However, such a stone was never erected because of Godwin's objections to such.

Whistler too considered Wills a sympathetic figure and asked him to give evidence at the Ruskin libel trial in 1878. Wills declared that Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170) showed Whistler to be a man of genius. Will's testimony along with the other testimonies were published with slight alterations by Whistler in Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890. The two men were still in contact in 1888 when Wills managed to obtain Whistler a stall seat at one of his theatrical productions (#11004).


Whistler, James McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London, 1890, Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Soros, Susan Weber, E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer, New Haven and London, 1999.