William Edward Webb
British 1862 – 1903
William Webb was born in Manchester in 1862 and was almost entirely a marine artist, a painter in oils of coastal scenes. He was a prolific painter, influenced, like so many aspiring artists of the era, by the great master J M W Turner. Although his work cannot be compared in the same breath with the genius of Turner, Webb developed a style so totally distinctive that he could not be likened to a mere copyist. Many of his pictures show scenes in the Isle of Man, but he also travelled quite widely afield in the British Isles, including Fleetwood in his home county of Lancashire, Guernsey, Whitby, Falmouth, Cornwall, Norfolk, Northumberland and Cardiff.
William Webb sought to break away from the formalised tradition of the 19th century painting, producing atmospheric scenes, by adopting a rather loose technique with soft warm colours and the skilful use of light and shade. A style that was a little ‘avant-garde’ and William Webb struggled during his short life to get the recognition, he so rightly deserved.
Peel Harbour, Isle of Man was exhibited in the special exhibition of his paintings, held in 1974 at The Old Customs House and Old Solent House in Lymington, under the title A Merchant Vessel alongside a Quay, it was described as ‘a fine painting in which William Webb had achieved a nice balance between the merchant ship in the centre, the figures and buildings on the right, and the vessels in the mid-distance. Once again the distinctive style and sense of perspective have enabled him to produce an exceptionally attractive picture’.
Although William Webb exhibited numerous paintings in his native Manchester, and also at the Royal Academy in London, it was a source of great frustration that he did not enjoy the commercial success, he so rightly deserved – an all too familiar story in the history of art. This combined with the health troubles and an unhappy domestic life contributed to periods of depression and sadly, during one of these dark times, and as a final act of total despair, William Webb died by his own hand, in his studio in Manchester in 1903.
Poignantly, an admirer of his art asked at the time ‘Will fame which was coming tardily and warily, as fame ever comes, hasten now that the genius who courted it, is dead’. A prediction proved correct, as his paintings are now appreciated and collected with enthusiasm both at home and abroad. The special exhibition held in 1974 at The Old Customs House and Old Solent House in Lymington, celebrated the work of this highly gifted and previously under rated artist.