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he younger son of the self-taught but prolific West Country artist William Widgery (1826-1893), Frederick John Widgery is known mainly for his paintings of the landscapes of Devon and Cornwall. He was born in May 1861, attended Exeter Cathedral School and studied at the Exeter School of Art, the National Art Training School at South Kensington, the life school at the Royal Academy in Antwerp (where several artists of the Newlyn School in Cornwall, such as Norman Garstin and Frank Bramley, also studied), and the school established in 1883 by Hubert von Herkomer at Bushey, near Watford. His marriage was recorded in Exeter in 1888.

Widgery had a wider range than is usually thought. For example, his works included some sporting scenes, such as one of James McCausland on His Hunter (1884; see Wingfield 319). This is not surprising, perhaps, considering that his father too had painted animals, and that a fellow-student of his at Bushey was the noted painter of horses, Lucy Kemp-Welsh (1869-1958). But, despite the fact that he exhibited several of his paintings at the Royal Academy, and painted some views at Newlyn, with its reputation as an art colony, Widgery was not part of any innovatory movement, and perhaps not even quite of his time: as Denys Brook-Hart says, "he painted well on into the 20th century, but his style is meticulously that of the 19th..." (89). He inherited not only his father's individuality as an artist, and his love of the West Country, but his eye for colour. He often painted in appealingly bright, fresh tones, but could capture the atmosphere of the landscape in all its varying moods and seasons.

As well as bringing out the "rare loveliness" of Devonshire scenery by illustrating several books about the area (Presland 122), Widgery achieved considerable eminence in Exeter life. He became chairman of the Exeter art gallery and occupied various civic offices, including that of Mayor (in 1903-01) and the city magistrate (in 1912). Later on, like so many other artists, he joined the volunteer army, becoming a Captain in the 1st Devon and Somerset Royal Engineer Volunteers. He was also active in charity work, and was the founding President of Exeter's Rotary Club. There is a blue plaque outside his long-time home in the city, mentioning that he had been made a freeman of Exeter. Far from living the life of a solitary artist, or even one who withdrew into an artistic community, he contributed fully and prominently to local society. He died on 27 January 1942 at the age of 81.

Widgery is mentioned by John Van der Kiste as "one of several names from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who has always been revered (and collected) in his own county, but almost completely unknown outside it." But this is much too sweeping a generalisation, since a large number of major auction houses, such as Christie's and Sotheby's, regularly deal with his works — see the long list of them in Alex Pollock's alphabetically arranged catalogue. That they continue to do so is a testimony to his large output and continuing popularity. — Jacqueline Banerjee



Links to Related Material


Brook-Hart, Denys. British 19th Century Marine Painting. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1974.

"Frederick John Widgery." Exeter Civic Society. Web. 15 April 2024. lkv mmmm-09/mcxx77

Pollock, Alex. British Watercolours. London: Kevin Francis / AP Research, 1987.

Presland, John. Lynton and Lynmouth: A Pageant of Cliff & Moorland. Illustrated by F. J. Widgery. London: Chatto & Windus, 1919. Internet Archive, from a copy in Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 15 April 2024.

Pycroft, George. Art in Devonshire: with the biographies of artists born in that county. Exeter: Henry S. Eland, 1883. Internet Archive, from a copy in the Getty Research Institute. Web. 15 April 2024.

Van der Kiste, John. The Little Book of Devon. Stroud, Glos.: The History Press, 2011. Ebook.

Wingfield, Mary Ann. A Dictionary of Sporting Artists: 1650-1990. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1992.

Created 15 April 2024