|Thomas Webster, R.A., son of John Webster, Member of the George III's household and Mrs Webster||Printer friendly version|
© National Portrait Gallery
© National Portrait Gallery
Thomas Webster was born on 20th March 1800 at Ranelagh Street in Pimlico the son of John Webster a member of George III's household. He trained as a chorister at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and at the Chapel Royal, St James's, London, but, preferring art, entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1821, winning the Schools silver medal in 1825. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy on 10th February 1846. Thomas Webster married twice - firstly to Betsy Millner of Sittingbourne and, after her death in 1859, secondly to Ellen Summerfield of Aylesford at All Souls, Marylebone on 26th July 1860. There were no children of either marriage.
In 1857 Webster moved to the village of Cranbrook, Kent, and became the informal leader of the Cranbrook colony - Frederick Daniel Hardy, George Hardy, Thomas Webster, George Bernard O'Neill, John Callcott Horsley and Augustus Edwin Mulready - that thrived in Cranbrook in the latter half of the nineteenth century. They were a close association of colleagues and friends, and, in the case of the Hardy brothers and G.B. O'Neill, distant relatives. All six were "Genre" painters depicting scenes from daily life, either real or imaginary and, through their work, we have an accurate depiction of the people and homes in the Cranbrook area during the Victorian age. Often the Colony used their children, families and friends as models with the Hardys and Webster focused on rustic interiors and O'Neill and Horsley on picturesque historic architecture. The six painters, who occupied The Old Studio in the High Street, were prolific in their work and exhibited extensively at the Royal Academy and the British Institution.
Throughout his time at Cranbrook Thomas Webster lived at Webster House in the High Street where on 23rd September 1886, he died. A memorial to him by Hamo Thorneycroft was erected, subsequently, at St. Dunstan's Church, Cranbrook
|20th Mar 1800||Born||At Ranelagh Street in the Parish of Pimlico, London|
|1831||The Lesson, Oil on panel (38.1 x 58.3) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1834||Late at School, Oil on Mahogany painted by Thomas Webster|
|1835||Children at Prayer, Oil on panel (49.5 x 59.6 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1835||This Won't Hurt a Bit!, Oil on panel (17.8 x 14.6 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|c 1835||Reading the Scriptures, Oil on panel (40.6 x 35.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1837||Going to the Fair, Oil on canvas (55.9 x 76.1 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1837||Returning from the Fair, Oli on canvas (55.9 x 76.1 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1839||The Football Game, Oil on canvas (73.5 x 99.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|1841||Schoolboy painted by Thomas Webster|
|1842||The Smile, Oil on panel (31.7 x 63.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster|
|1842||The Frown, Oil on panel (31.7 x 63.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy|
|1842||The Boy With Many Friends, Oil painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Bury Art Gallery and Museum, Lancashire|
|1842||Going to School, Oil on panel (69.2 x 104.8 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|1842||Sketch for 'The Boy With Many Friends' drawn by Thomas Webster||Bury Art Gallery and Museum, Lancashire|
|1842||Sketch for 'The Boy With Many Friends' drawn by Thomas Webster||Bury Art Gallery and Museum, Lancashire|
|1843||Contrary Winds, Oil on mahogany panel (37.3 x 57.1 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1843||Sickness and Health, Oil on panel (50.7 x 81 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1844||The Artist's Parents, Oil on Wood painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy|
|1845||A Dame's School, Oil on Mahogany painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy|
|1845 to 1865||A Musical Evening, Oil on canvas (50.5 x 60.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|1845 to 1865||Boys will be Boys, Oil on canvas (51 x 64 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|1845 to 1865||Classroom Recital, Watercolour (30 x 60 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|1845 to 1865||The Chastened Child, Oil on panel (36 x 30 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|1845 to 1865||The New Sign, Oil on canvas (70 x 90 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Lancashire|
|1845 to 1865||Two Young Girls, Oil painted by Thomas Webster|
|1845 to 1865||Victorian Country Classroom, Oil painted by Thomas Webster|
|1846||The Early lesson, Oil on canvas (52.1 x 41.9 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Royal Academy of Arts, London|
|1847||A Village Choir, Oil on panel (60.4 x 91.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1847||Goodnight!, Oil on panel (71.4 x 118.7 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery|
|1847||The Naughty Pupil, Oil on canvas (12.3" x 10.3") painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|10th May 1847||Married||Betsy Millner at Cookham cum Ewshott in the County of Hampshire; registered at Hartley Wintney District, Hampshire; ref: 1847 Q2 Vol 7 Page 147||Kathleen Rhys' records|
|1849||See-saw, Oil on panel painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy|
|before 1850||Beating for Recruits, Oil on mahogany panel (44.5 x 39.4 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
|1850||The Playground, Oil on panel (19" x 36") painted by Thomas Webster|
|c 1850||Ring o' Roses, Oil on panel (30.5 x 40.6 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art, USA|
|1852||A Letter from the Colonies, Oil on panel (15 x 15 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|1852||School Playground, Oil on canvas (76 x 151 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|1857 to 1886||Home||At Webster House in the Parish of Cranbrook, Kent|
|1858||Sunday Evening, Oil painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy|
|26th Jul 1860||Married||Ellen Summerfield at All Souls in the Parish of Marylebone, London; witnessed by J.C. Horsley, Charles Vinall and Marian Summerfield||London Metropolitan Archives|
|1862||Roast Pig, Oil on canvas (73 x 118.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust|
|1863||A Tea Party, Oil on panel (50.8 x 61 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Lancashire|
|1865||Village Gossips, Oil on canvas (20" x 30") painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|c 1865||Thomas Webster painted by Elliott and Fry|
|c 1865||Thomas Webster, albumen carte-de-visite (9.1 x 5.7cm) photographed by John & Charles Watkins||© National Portrait Gallery - reference NPG Ax11929|
|1867||Cottagers Making Music - A Musical Evening, Oil on canvas (55.9 x 87.6 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|before 1870||Reading the News, Oil on board (21.6 x 16.5 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|before 1870||Sunday Afternoon, Oil on panel (21.6 x 19.1 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Wolverhampton Art Galery|
|1876||A Birthday Tea Party, Oil (27" x 22") painted by Thomas Webster|
|1876||Youth and Age, Oil on panel (45.7 x 40.9 cm) painted by Thomas Webster, exhibited at the Royal Academy||Private collection|
|1878||Maternal Affection, Oil on canvas (88.5 x 79 cm) painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|1881||Girl Feeding Dog, Oil on canvas (35.5" x 27.3") painted by Thomas Webster||Private collection|
|3rd Apr 1881||Census||At High Street in the Parish of Cranbrook, Kent; Thomas Webster, M, Head, married, age 81, born London; occupation: Artist painter R.A.||1881 Census|
|1884||Thomas Webster at Webster House, Cranbrook photographed by Joseph Parkin Mayall||Private collection|
|23rd Sep 1886||Died||In the Parish of Cranbrook, Kent|
|after 23rd Sep 1886||Buried||At St Dunstan's Church in the Parish of Cranbrook, Kent; memorial by Hamo Thorneycroft|
|23rd Oct 1886||Will||Personal estate £18,705 9s 2d||Probate Registry|
Thomas Webster, R.A., was born on the 20th of March, 1800, in Ranelagh Street, Pimlico; his father, being attached to the household of George III., took his child in its infancy to Windsor, where he remained till the death of the venerable monarch. Young Webster was educated in the choir of the Chapel Royal, St. James's, his father being desirous of making a chorister of him; but like Hoppner, who was in the choir of the Chapel Royal, and Callcott in that of Westminster Abbey, Webster preferred the art of painting to the practice of music. We know not what the world has lost as a vocalist by the preference, but we are sure it has thereby gained an original and most excellent painter.
Whether, as a boy, Mr. Webster took more delight in 'Going into School', or in 'Coming out of School'; whether he stood in awe of the Dominie's 'Frown', and laughed at his 'Joke'; whether he was one of the party of 'Birdcatchers', joined in the 'Gunpowder Plot', and was the lucky 'Boy who had many Friends' — of these and other matters of like import we are in profound ignorance, and must leave our readers in the same condition; but we will venture to assert that in all the sports he has so aptly represented on his canvases, he played his part, and from them stored his youthful mind with recollections that have answered the purpose of his after life better than the 'Commentaries' of Caesar, if he ever read them, or the distractions of duodecimals and algebraic problems, if he ever worked them out on his oak-framed slate.
In 1820 he entered the Royal Academy as a student, and in 1825 obtained the first medal in the School of Painting. Having, in 1825, been fortunate in painting a little picture entitled 'Rebels shooting a Prisoner,' exhibited at Suffolk Street, it at once brought him into notice, so that the difficulties which many young painters find in early life, and their consequent privations, were alike unfelt by him; these difficulties and privations are arduous and painful enough to check all except the most ardent spirits, but when once surmounted, he who has overcome regards them from his vantage-ground with unqualified satisfaction.
The first of his exhibited pictures of which we possess any record, except that just mentioned, was one sent to the Royal Academy in 1827, a portrait-picture, we presume, the 'Children of T. Drane, Esq.'; the next year he contributed the 'Gunpowder Plot' to the Academy, and in 1829, 'The Prisoner', and 'A Foraging Party roused', to the British Institution. Of these and earlier works which Mr. Webster forwarded to our public galleries, we can only give the titles; our space does not admit of detailed comment. For the next ten years we find him exhibiting one or two pictures annually, either at the British Institution or at the Academy, the year 1834 only excepted.
All this time the artist was gradually winning his way to public favour; every class saw in his humorous compositions what could not fail to amuse, and therefore to please; for his humour, like that of all Dickens's droll fellows, is never coarse; it never touches caricature. His characters are invariably true to nature, though in her most ludicrous aspect - nature which both old and young can understand and appreciate.
At the period of which we are writing, it was a common practice with artists — especially such as had achieved a reputation — to send to the British Institution only pictures which had been previously exhibited at the Academy, but we do not find that Mr. Webster followed this plan; he contributed to this society, in 1839, two pictures - one 'The Rat-Trap', boys inspecting its contents; the other called 'Anticipation', a baker's lad bringing home a pie, for which a hungry-looking boy waits anxiously at the door of his cottage home, standing "like a greyhound in the slip," with a cloth tucked up under his chin, a spoon in his hand, his mouth half-open in "anticipation" of the savoury plateful. His Academy picture of this year, 'Football', was considered the best he had yet painted; a group of village urchins are in the full excitement of the game, which they follow up in the most vigorous manner. Of course Mr. Webster must show some "fun" among the players; consequently, a boy has received a kick, and in his agony seizes one of his companions by the hair; another boy has had his cap pressed over his eyes by some mischief-lovers; while another, who is kneeling in the foreground of the composition, rubs himself to relieve the pain occasioned by a chance blow given in the mélée. The picture is full of animation, the figures are most skilfully grouped, and very carefully finished.
In the following year, 1841, the name of Mr. Webster appears in the list of Associates of the Royal Academy, an honour to which he had proved a just claim; he was elected with Sir Charles Barry and Mr. Redgrave. He exhibited three pictures this year, and they were three which we think he has never surpassed. Two of them, 'The Smile' and 'The Frown', are well known from the engravings published by the "Art Union of London”, while there must be few people whose attention has not been at some time or other drawn to an engraving of 'The Boy with many Friends', - the schoolboy with his half-opened package of good things from home, surrounded by his schoolfellows each anxious to lend knife, corkscrew, or anything else that will oblige the owner of the untold treasure.
There was a charming little picture by this artist, occupying the "post of honour", as the position over the fireplace was generally considered, in the British Institution in 1842; it was called the 'Wanderer', and represented a young Italian boy with a box of white mice, which he is showing to some children at the door of their cottage. The contrast in the faces of 'The Wanderer', weary and exiled, and those of the children in humbler but comfortable quarters at home, is very happily expressed - the group all sunshine and delight, the little Italian sorrowful and careworn.
Mr. Webster's single picture of the year 1843, we will venture to say, drew forth as many sighs from the spectators as his former productions had elicited smiles; it portrayed one of those touching incidents which show that the artist's harp is not always tuned to merriment, but that sometimes it hangs upon the willows; the picture is called 'Sickness and Health'. A young girl on whose features the death-warrant is set is seated propped up by pillows at a cottage door; before it an Italian organ-grinder is playing his instrument, to the music of which two children, younger than the poor invalid, are dancing; all the characters very ably sustain the intention of the artist, and are full of interest.
What would Mr. Webster have done for subjects for his pencil had there been no such folk in the world as incorrigible boys, idle boys, mischievous boys, funny boys, &c.? Yet in one of his two Academy pictures of 1844, the artist stepped aside from his usual course to pay a tribute of filial affection to his aged parents by painting their portraits to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage; the aged couple are seated side by side. The picture, a small one, is a gem of its class. In the following year Mr. Webster was elected Royal Academician; his sole contribution to the exhibition was 'The Dame's School', now in the Vernon collection; a large engraving of this picture has been published by Mr. Hogarth, and a small one appeared in the Art Joiirnal some years ago.
An important and most amusing picture was exhibited by Mr. Webster in 1847; it was suggested by a description in one of the tales in Washington Irving's inimitable 'Sketch-Book', where Frank Bracebridge promises to favour his friends with a specimen of the musical achievement of his cousin Simon in forming a 'Village Choir', in the church which did not possess an organ; Simon, for this purpose, had formed a choir of all the parish vocalists and instrumentalists, selecting "for the bass all the deep solemn mouths, and for the tenor the loud ringing mouths, among the country bumpkins." In the gallery of the church, therefore, is about as motley an assemblage of choristers as can well be imagined; the leader of the choir, a spare figure in an ill-fitting suit of rusty black, is singing most lustily, his open mouth discovering the loss of so many of his teeth as must make his intonation far from distinct; to the right and left of the leader are ranged the vocalists - anything but "sweet singers of Israel," and the performers on bassoon, violoncello, clarionet, &c., each of whom is unquestionably extracting as much "power" from his instrument as lungs and a strong arm can respectively produce. The composition is full of humorous incident, carried out with the careful execution which has always distinguished the style of this painter.
Amongst his more recent works we may notice - we have not space for more than the titles - 'Politicians', exhibited in 1869; 'Volunteers at Artillery Practice', in 1871; 'An Interested Adviser', in 1873; 'The Wreck Ashore', in 1874; 'Youth and Age', in 1876; 'The Letter', in 1877; a Portrait of Himself, in 1878. He was placed on the list of Honorary Retired Academicians in 1877. A lifetime of such incessant labour may seem to have deserved an evening of calm repose; yet such is his fondness for Art that the silver-haired octogenarian is even now working in his quiet retreat at Cranbrook, using to the utmost the talents intrusted to his care. Can we say that his "pound" has not produced its ten pounds?
We confess a strong partiality for the inimitable works of this most original painter; they are pictures affording real pleasure; whether we regard their masterly execution as artistic productions, or the cheerful and amusing subjects he illustrates, they are equally most acceptable
Extract from British Painters published in 1881
No descendent's report
Webster individual records
|The ancestral pedigree of Thomas Webster, R.A.|