Photo credit: Museums Sheffield
The coast line in this picture is not of western Normandy, but probably Neapolitan.
Is this another painting of Ischia, one of which Webb exhibited at the British Institution in 1866 as no.13? That painting may be the one at the New Art Gallery Walsall as its price £200 suggests that it was not a small work. Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery owns another painting of Ischia by Webb, and the University of Exeter owns another at present titled 'An Old Castle overlooking a Bay'. Ischia also features in Cartwright Hall's 'Bay of Naples'.
Art Detective users familiar with the Bay of Naples might be able to say which island in the bay this is, as although similar to the island in this painting by Webb, there are differences.
The collection note:
'We do not seem to have any further information on this particular work, however we do have another painting in the collection by Webb of the same title 'Mont Saint-Michel' (VIS.1421). This other painting bears a far greater resemblance to the work of the same title at the Tate Gallery. We agree that the work above (VIS.1608) must be of a different place and would welcome any further comment.'
This painting is now listed as 'View of a Spanish Mediterranean Coast and Fort'. The artist James Webb is now listed as having been born in 1835, rather than 1825.
Thank you to all who contributed. Please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.
Links to artworks mentioned above:
James Webb's 'The Castle of Ischia' at The New Art Gallery Walsall:
James Webb's 'Ischia' at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery:
James Webb's 'The Old Castle Overlooking the Bay of Naples, Italy' at University of Exeter:
James Webb's 'Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France' at Museums Sheffield:
James Webb's 'Mont St Michel, Normandy' at Tate:
There is a very striking similarity with the Castello Aragonese on Ischia.
A Google search for Castello Aragonese Ischia will return several images very like the picture.
I would suggest it is St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, rather than Mont Saint-Michel. It is close to other pictures of this subject by Webb:
This is certainly the Aragonese castle of Ischia (Castello d'Ischia), not least because the lateen-rigged fishing boats shown are Italian/Mediterranean types. For the geography see google maps at
While it is a dramatic building on the east side of the substantial island, and linked to it by a causeway, 19th-century romantic/picturesque artists tend to over-dramatize by making it either bigger in general mass or much higher than it is, or both.The picture in question, which is taken from the coast of the main island a little further south, is rather less guilty of this than many. Other examples on Art UK include...
Also by Webb, looking from south-west along the causeway linking the castle to the main island:
and again similar:
The following is by Stanfied from the north-east, effectively the view from Procida, the next island further in towards the Italian mainland:
...and Stanfield, looking east, along the causeway from the main island:
As identifying features in all note the relation of the dome shown to a square tower usually seen as the highest point.
The following 'Old Castle overlooking a Bay ' at Exeter, also attributed to Webb though the image and/or condition doesn't help certainty, is another view from the south-west (this one from my long list of 'awaiting initial response from collection' re: its proper identification from a year or so back!)
Belay that, as the seamen say, with apologies because thinking solely of Italy /Ischia and Mount/Mont St Michael comparisons: it may in fact be another variant of Webb's views of Cartagena, on the southern Spanish coast, though if so very down-scaled. Part of the reason is that the coastal view beyond the castle, if Ischia, would have to be Procida, which is at some distance, but that too is an island and this look as if further along the same coast. Boats would also fit.
And these other versions of Cartagena, ringing changes of detail:
I have found it very difficult to tie either the picture in question or any of Webb's other versions of Cartagena (Murcia) to other past images or existing geography using either photos on the web or Google Earth. The headland to the west of the harbour entrance is much larger than what he shows and the remaining fortifications on it much smaller in comparison; and those on the east side a better scale but so changed and ruined as to be of little help (and with water not beach in the foreground). Nonetheless and partly because of the consistency of the boats in all his canvases -none of which have the projecting prow (sperone) which one would expect to find on at least one or two among any shown in the Naples area, I think -having fallen into a wrong Italian direction- this picture is likely to be another of his 'Cartagenas' all of which seem to be to greater or less degree capriccio 'variations on a theme'. Unless anyone has any further additions I'd be included to suggest it is retitled as 'View of a Mediterranean coast and fort, probably at or near Cartagena, Spain'
Should be looking for a town on the African side of the Mediterranean? Is the dome an Arab rather than a Spanish dome?
Webb has a terrible tendency, which he shares with Clarkson Stanfield, to invent landscapes by drawing together elements from disparate sketched sources, which then get geographically specific titles attributed to them (not, I suspect, always by the artist).
His various versions of "Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey", for example, bear only a superficial resemblance to the real thing and is more of a reworking of some of the compositions of his Cartagena / Ischia views (or vice versa)
even closer are two views described as "San Sebastian"
That - as I'm beginning to realize rather late in the day- is a fair comment on Webb, though less so on Stanfield, albeit he does similarlly melodramatize, though not unexpectedly given his background as a stage painter. In the Wolverhapton San Sebastian by Webb (the first cited) the general disposition of Monte Urgul and the fortress in relation to the town -with the twin towers of the cathedral in the middle - is OK though the comparative scales of the fort (too big), mountain, town (too small) and cathedral towers (too squat), ridiculously exaggerated: Stanfield's 'Siege of San Sebastian' (1854) at Somerleyton Hall is in this case much more realistic (though not on Art UK and I don't have an image to post). In response to Martin's point, I don't see anything in the fortifications boats and staffage to suggest convincingly the African side of the Med (and I don't think Webb went there). I suggest it comes down to taking a view of which site the picture in question (or set of pictures) is most related to, and on balance I think its the 'Cartagena' group rather than the 'Ischia' group, but nothing to do with Mont St Michel, which is where this started.
Were any of the 'Cartagena' paintings exhibited with this title in Webb's lifetime? Did the titles indicate that what was represented was not Cartagena itself, but a headland close to the Spanish port?
Three other questions. Did Webb ever go to the Spanish Cartagena? Was he basing his views on prints or other artists' representations? Did he confuse the two Cartagenas? Do these paintings depend on features of the famous South American Cartagena on the Colombian coast of the Caribbean?
The Spanish Cartagena was in the news as a stronghold of the Cantonal rebellion of 1873 - it was only recovered early in 1874. So it is likely that there would be wood engravings in the Illustrated London News and elsewhere. Francisco J Rojas's book Cartagena 1874-1936, published by Tres Fronteras , 1993 might well have illustrations, as might other books on the city held by the British Library. The British Library also has maps of various dates of both Cartagenas
The Graphic vol 8 had wood engraved views of Cartagena during the 1873 insurrection
Webb exhibited a painting entitled Cartagena at the Royal Academy in 1874, but did he make up the view using his standard motif of buildings packed tightly on a rocky islet or headland, counting on the belief that no one visiting the exhibition would have any idea what the town looked like? Certainly it seems to be very difficult today to find any view or map of Cartagena which resembles all Webb's 'Cartagenas'.
A much better artist than Webb , Wright of Derby, appears to have used his imagination to paint Catania after an eruption of Vesuvius.
Illustrations in the ILN for 1873 do not help but the Bateria de Aguilones, on Punta de Aguilones, east of Cartagena harbour may be as close as one can find.
There is a fort high on the west side too but not elaborate and dwarfed by the headland there, and a major castle in the town, so Webb's Cartagena views look pretty imaginary, though perhaps inspired by events of 1873 given the RA date: I also found a Christie's ref to another dated 1875. Cooke was there in 1860-61 : he drew the fort in the town
and also this, looking south-west out of the harbour
and this of the lighthouse on one of the points at the entrance, I assume the west side (2 studies on one sheet,the boat rig being lateen not a 'lugger')
I can so far find nothing useful ly factual on Webb's travels or even an easily accessible obituary. His Wiki entry mentions one in the Nottingham Evening Post (odd enough for a London artist) but not even a death notice seems to appear in any of the papers on the Gale/BL 19th c newspaper database (larger BL one not yet checked).
The boats in the picture in question are however consistent with his other Cartagenas and I see nothing to suggest the scene is north African, or Cartagena in Columbia. It does seem largely invented but if not a 'Webb Cartagena' then someone might like to suggest an alternative since also not apparently an Ischia or Mont St Michel.
The absence of domes is rather problematic - but I agree that the area close to the Spanish Cartagena does seem to be most likely . The whole discussion makes one wonder on how many other paintings Webb invented part of his coastscapes.
Webb's Nottingham Ev Post obit is sadly no help, it was little more than an announcement - just a handful of lines, and repeated verbatim over the next week or so in three or four other provincial papers. See attached.
Thanks for supplying that Osmund. On Martin's 'domes' point I agree re: present absence but its fairly clear from modern images that the Cartagena fortifications have been much altered. Overall we seem to be discovering that Webb painted some attractive and dramatic European coastal landscapes of often dubious topographical veracity, but without hard evidence of when he visited the places they claim to show and perhaps sometimes not going there at all: also that his biography is so far no more than what is implied by his considerable exhibition record. He's not in DNB and though b. in Chelsea and d. in London (1825-95, s. of Archibald Webb, also a painter), even the specific dates for that don't yet figure in general print sources.
It would be good if Sheffield would say how they would wish to retitle this work on the lines already suggested, or as 'View of a Spanish Mediterranean coast and fort' though on current evidence the inspiration is likely to be Cartagena.
Webb's various addresses in Graves suggest steady residence in London and shifting (north) from Chelsea only as far as St John's Wood by the time of his death. The British Biographical Index (which does not include modern art dictionaries such as those published by the Antique Collectors Club) shows he only features in Boase's, 'Modern English Biography' (Supplement). Its few lines just identify him, lacks birth date and wrongly says he died 'about 1889'.
Can anyone produce a specific (DD/MM/YY) birth or baptism and death date for Webb? A quick Ancestry search shows nothing obvious either for reputed Chelsea birth in 1825 or London death in 1895 (pre-15 March from the Nottingham Post report of it).
Thank you: I wonder who started the 1825 error if before the (at least) repetition of it in EHH Archibald's 'Sea Painters' (all eds.); but 1835 makes him fairly precocious given he first exh. at BI in 1852 and RA 1853.
Christopher Wood's 'Dict. of Victorian Painters' (1971) pre-dates Archibald in the 1825 error, wherever its started and the following seems to be the public registry information gist on James W. (based on Ancestry). It also firms up the dates of his elder brother, the animal-subject painter Byron Webb (3 works on Art UK) as 1831-67.
Webb was born at Glebe Place, Chelsea, on 11 April 1835, the third child and second son of Archibald Webb (b. c.1792–1883), marine and coastal painter, and his wife Ellen (née de Lawtre) who married in March 1831. His elder brother was Byron Webb (b. 11 December 1831– d. 1867) also a painter of horses, hunting and especially Scottish Highland subjects, who exhibited at the RA, SBA and elsewhere from 1846 to 1866. The other children were Leonora (b. 1833), Annette (b. 1837, d. pre-1841), Archibald (b. 1839); Thomas Warburton (b. 1841); Ellen Elizabeth (b.1842, d. pre-1844), Ellen Clara (b.1844) and John Warburton (1847–69).
At the 1841 census the Webbs were at Trafalgar Lodge in King’s Road Chelsea, head of the household being Archibald’s father , William Webb, a 70-year-old ‘Professor of Dancing’ (his mother, Mary, is also listed). They were still there at the 1851 and 1861 counts although by 1851 William and Mary are absent and Archibald the head. He is also then listed as ‘Artist and Professor of Dancing’ (though just ‘artist’ in later counts), and James as a 15-year-old ‘Artist Graduate’. Ellen [Clara] and John are still present but do not appear after 1851. In 1861 Archibald junior and Thomas are both listed as ‘Farmer[s] in America, home for a few weeks’, and Leonora is stated as ‘Married’ though her married name and husband (Alfred H. Page, a coal exporter and ship broker) only appear in the 1871 count at James’s address.
By 1871 James had married his Irish-born wife, Jane (36, b. Newry), and was head of household at 61 Belsize Park Road, with his mother Ellen (66) and father , now 78 and listed as a ‘retired artist’ apparently living with them. Others present are a nephew, John B. Webb (5), Amy J. Henderson (8) a cousin, and Leonora and her husband Alfred Page. There are also three female domestic staff –cook, housemaid and nurse (which here suggests age/illness) – and a 15-year-old boy ‘page’.
In 1881 James and Jane are at 43 Abbey Road, Marylebone, with his widowed father Archibald, cousin Amy Henderson (18), Eliza Webb (44, widowed sister in law, possibly Byron’s wife) and three female servants, one also noted as another ‘nurse’. From this it would appear James had no children himself and that cousin Amy had been resident with them since before 1871.
James does not apparently figure in the 1891 census and though he appears to have died early in 1895 (by mid-March) the where and when are still elusive.
Byron Webb was buried at St Mary’s Battersea on 28 August 1867, his address being given as Lavender Villas, Launder Road, Battersea, so presumably died within the previous week or so.
I don't see any more takers on refinement of subject beyond what has already been suggested (ie Spanish rather than French or Italian and probably intended as/ based on Cartagena). If the collection are prepared to accept that I suggest this wraps up. Webb's corrected birth date of 1835 also needs adjusting.
Could we now chase this one to closure with the title change I've already suggested, or similar? 'View of a Spanish Mediterranean coast and fort' at least, unless the collection wish to add '(possibly Cartagena)' or '(Cartagena?)' for web search purposes: plus the d.o.b. change for Webb. It can always be revived should there be future advance.
The collection have been contacted about this recommendation.
Re the slightly uncertain date of death, it had occurred to me that Webb, who travelled frequently and widely across Europe & the near east until at least the late 1880s*, might have died abroad. However, I have now found a very slightly earlier (12th March 1895) mention of his death in the St James's Gazette, saying he was one of the victims of "the current epidemic" - this can only refer to the serious London influenza epidemic of that year, deaths from which first became significant in mid-Feb, surged quickly to a major peak a week or so into March, and dropped off again thereafter. See attachments. This, if true, should mean that he died in or near London in (probably) late February or early March.
Deaths had since 1875 been required to be notified within a maximum of 14 (and usually five) days, so the registration should be in the first quarter. There are only two James Webb deaths in 1895Q1 that even vaguely fit, and neither inspires confidence: one at Dartford (includes Bexley, Erith, Gravesend etc), age 60, and the other at Holborn, age 63 - our James Webb was actually just short of 60. And that's as far as I can take it, despite checking the death announcements in the 'Morning Post' (prob too umarket) for every issue in Feb & March 1895.
[*Thomas McLean's Gallery in London held an exhibition of his recent sketches and pictures "at home and abroad" in February 1889. Webb exhibited two works at the RBA at much the same time, when his address was given as 44 Piccadilly - but 44 Piccadilly (very close to Burlington House) was an address associated with quite a few artists in the late C19th, and may just have been a contact address.]
Thanks for that clarification Osmund. As everyone quickly finds out, age statements in the death Registry are routinely approximate within a year or so, if not more, given that most would have been verbally reported and sometimes by people who were not sure, including servants: I know for example that Tom Drury , Stanfield's 'man', not a family member , reported his in 1867 though can't recall offhand whether he got the age correct (73). As one also knows with flu, its no respecter of place and Webb could well have died while staying with one of his children (eg Leonora and her husband supposing they by then lived in the Dartford/Gravesend area, which would at least have been congruent with his profession). You have anyway nailed the ball-park date, so I suggest this wraps up for the time being.
As you previously observed, Pieter, I don't think James Webb had any children of his own. His sister Leonora had in fact moved to America with her husband and family long before James's death - they had settled in Virginia by 1880 (having been in the US previously in the 1850s, and then in Cardiff in the 1860s - she and her brother Archibald were double-registered in the 1861 Census, in London and in Wales). Her husband Alfred Page had by then become a farmer like his brothers-in-law. Which makes me wonder if James had been en route to the States himself when he was taken ill - did ships for America ever sail from the Thames?
Certainly there was nothing to keep him in England. The London Gazette reveals that although wealthy enough in 1877-80 to be a shareholder in two banks (one of them highly successful), less than a decade later his finances had tanked - in Nov 1889 James Webb petitioned for bankruptcy, and the final Aug 1892 payment by the trustees to his creditors gave them a total of less than 6 shillings in the pound of what was owed. He was destitute, and the lack of a probate or administration record three years later is now explained. See http://bit.ly/2cYmu34
Sailing from the Thames would certainly have been possible (and sorry for my late-night slip saying 'his children') : I meant his sister Leonora Page. Interesting that she went west too, though not uncommon. Pity he went west in the more metaphorical sense, though also not uncommon with artists of his stamp when tastes changed: George Stanfield had some success while his father lived but was a similar casualty worth no more that about £200 at his death aged 49/50 in 1878 (though other factors may have contributed) and most of his children emigrated to Australia and Canada for new opportunities.
Could PCF please chase the recommendation made in the sixth item above so this can come to a conclusion?
I've just contacted the collection about this recommendation again, and will post a response when I hear back.
Just to let you all know that Museums Sheffield have seen the Art Detective activity on their works – collection staff are busy with the opening of the newly refurbished museum, and will look into Art Detective comments and suggestions when they are next able.
We are happy for the title to be changed to 'View of a Spanish Mediterranean coast and fort' and will make a note of it possibly being Cartagena. We are also happy with the change of date for Webb. Many thanks for all of this information.