‘Douglas Harbour, Isle of Man’
Oil on Canvas 30” x 50”
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 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 rightly deserved.
Douglas Harbour, Isle of Man is a wonderful example of William Webb’s work, with the mighty waves tossing the laden ship as it approaches the harbour, the figures on the quay side, busily preparing for the arrival of the boat. There are coopers, rolling their barrels and fishmongers selling their freshly caught fish – a scene of life and vitality at the turn of the century.
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 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. A special exhibition of his paintings was held in 1974 at The Old Customs House and Old Solent House in Lymington, celebrating the work of this highly gifted and previously under rated artist.