William James Webbe, 1830—1904[?]: An Overview


We have few biographical details of Webbe (or Webb) who was known as a painter of rustic genre, religious and allegorical subjects, and animals. William James Webbe went by the name of William J Webbe for his paintings but went by the name of W. J. Webb when he illustrated books [Source: Jennie Shelley]. He lived in London, travelled abroad to Düsseldorf and to Jerusalem and the Middle East, and exhibited at the RA 1853-78, also at the British Institution and Royal Society of British Artists. The style of his paintings, with their detail and high colour, and the religious and allegorical content of his paintings, -- but chiefly his visits to the East -- declare him as a follower of Holman Hunt. He travelled to Palestine in the 1862. although not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he was close to Holman Hunt, and it is likely that his style was initially influenced by him. Webbe exhibited a small number of faerie pictures in the 1850s but the greater part of his output was of birds and animals, often with an element of anthropomorphism, set in minutely observed landscapes that resemble the Nazarenes as much as the Pre-Raphaelites. [Information from Fine Art Sociaty catalogues]


According to Jennie Shelley, his great great grandniece, who lives in New Zealand, Webb "was born William James Webb on 13 July 1830 at Redruth, Cornwall, and baptized on the 23rd of that month at St Austell, Cornwall. One of eight children, he was the son of Rev. Samuel Webb (Wesleyan minister) and Sarah née Stirrup. Webb married Besse[?] sometime before 1871, and they had 2 children, Wilfred Mark Webb and Ethel Alice Webb.

"William, who was living in Isle of Wight in 1856, resided at Langham Chambers 1857. In the 1901 census William aged 70 and his wife Besse aged 52 were living at 4 Marlborough Rd, Ealing, Middlesex, and his occupation was artist. Also at that address was his daughter Ethel who was a science mistress. I have not been able to find the date of his death, but he would have died in England. His 2 brothers Samuel Webb and Thomas Stirrup Webb came to N.Z. Samuel was a pottery manufacturer in Stoke on Trent (Webb and Walters also Webb and Co). William's mother also came from generations of pottery manufacturers.

"I have many books that he illustrated, such as Bilble stories for children and poetry books. William's son Wilfred Mark Webb OBE wrote books on nature study, which his father illustrated. Wilfred wrote "Heritage of Dress" and 2 volumes of "Eton Nature Study" (text books for Eton College). William's illustrations of insects etc in the text books are in very great detail. I have found some of William's pictures on the internet. There are 5 in the Bridgeman Art Library and 1 on the Christopher Wood Gallery site. Also on many poster sites his picture "The Collared Thief" can be found. Art.com lists many of his paintings that have come up for auction. I found a list of some his paintings in a book at the library in "The Royal Academy Exhibitors" He must have done over 30 painting in his lifetime. Somewhere in N.Z. there is an original painting done by William J. Webbe of 2 of my relatives. The painting has been damaged in a fire but myself and many of my relatives have copies of it."



Brooke, Anthea. Victorian Painting. Catalogue for exhibition November-December 1977. London: Fine Art Society, 1977.

Spring '99. London: The Fine Art Society, 1999.

Last modified 11 April 2005