Topic: Painting description

Could the port in the background be identified by the prominent church tower and by the distant hill at the right? Could this be related to ‘Summer Evening’ exhibited by Webb as no. 315 at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1883, priced at £30?

There is writing on the sail that is in shadow, which might help to identify the port. There are similar views by Webb on Art UK, including ‘A Barge on the Texel’, 1878 (National Maritime Museum) and ‘View of Mayence, Germany, with Market Boats’, c.1871 (Laing Art Gallery).

The collection comments: ‘We have little information documented about this artwork, perhaps as the artwork was donated much later in 1949 by a H. B. Brierley. It is quite possible that the piece you speak about is related. We have no information on record regarding the port depicted in the picture unfortunately. Given that the artist painted in England, Wales, Holland, France and along the Rhine it is hard to narrow this down. However, looking just to the right of the large boat there is a windmill so this points in the direction of a town port in Holland.’

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been expanded to indicate that this evening scene depicts Dordrecht passage boats off a Netherlands river townscape. It has not been possible to identify the town; however, this is a good example of Webb’s variations on the theme of a central boat group with a church tower in the background.

Thank you to all those who contributed to this discussion. To those viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Wendy Howard,

To add to my last comment. The tall, square building on the opposite bank has a good resemblance to Chelsea Old Church.

Martin Hopkinson,

Chelsea church has a little turret on a corner of the tower, not visible in this painting
Dordrecht Grote Kerk has three tall narrow windows not visible here

The Rochadale, NMM and Laing pictures all releate as regards the central boat group, which are Dutch types (sailing boiers or similar). The foreground one in the NMM image has 'DOrdT on the sail indicating a connection with Dort/Dordrecht on the Maas and similar lettering on the sail of the rear one in the Rochdale canvas may read 'DORdT' too. The smaller boats are less specific but clearly local to shallow, calm water as indicated by the long sweeps (oars) and one with long barge-type rudder blade. Dutch sailing craft of the broad sort shown did have a wide range, including to England. The Laing picture appears to show Mainz (Mayence) on the Rhine -of which the Maas/ Meuse is a lower tributary - as another destination for them, though probably against a pretty fierce current if they got there. That said the background is not convincingly Dordrecht where the Grote Kerk is much larger, with a 4-storey tower and distinctive triple-lancet windows at the top under its distinctive clock-faced dormers:

I also doubt its unembanked Thames at Chelsea, for a variety of reasons including the smaller boats (none obvious Thames types, even if Dutch boiers got there) and the absence of the bridge shown in the Chelsea view copied by Wendy Howard three items above. Webb was born in Chelsea but the level of conurbation he shows in that picture at least must be into the 1860s.

PS to previous: if a sunset the view should also be west, or just north of west by the time the sun hits the horizon in summer. If it were Chelsea, the view here is more northerly and still not yet sundown - albeit that might just be imaginative licence.

Tamsyn Taylor,

With regards to whether the painting represents Dordecht or not, I have to say here that it is a painting, not a photograph. Artists paint what they see, or what they THINK they might be seeing Making a sketch in hazy light, and then a complete painting an a studio, leads to innacuracies. This was the Romantic style of painting.
If we were looking at a Monet here, completed on the spot, it would contain far less detail, but probably be a much more relieble record, because the artist would not attempt to draw in details of windows that he could not actually see.
As the Ruisdael painting seems to indicate, although the towr has two clocks projecting from the top, they merge into a single shape when viewed at certain angles, and would do so more in hazy light.

Our man was not at all particular about accurate representation of forms. That is evidenced by other works.
I looked at a number of paintings of the Castle at Ischia and found Webb's to be by far the most romanticised and the least accurate in terms of both proportion and detail.

My conclusion woud be that th present image may be part of a series of this region, and that unless another exceptionally large tower comes to light, it could probably be assume to be a loose representation of Dordrecht. Maybe there is another nearby that I haven't found yet. I will look further.

In the meantime, the photos relate to Webb's loose representation of Ischia.

a. Webb
b. Stansfield

Martin Hopkinson,

It is not Lambeth church too , which has a turret, but the houses look British

Russell Sansom,

Portsmouth viewed from Gosport? Could the "church towwr: be the cathedral which has changed a lot over the years? To the right of that, possibly the hotwalls. Just a guess, hard to see a clear image when viewed on a mobile phone.

Martin Hopkinson,

In Bury Art Museum's View of Portsmouth from Gosport the building which is now the Cathedral had a cupola, but there seems to have been another mediaeval church with a tower near the waterfront, which can be seen in works by Turner and Clarkson Stanfield. Perhaps Pieter has a view on this? see too Portsmouth Museum's anonymous frigate entering Portsmouth Harbour of c. 1840 and E W Cooke's Portsmouth Harbour and the 'Victory' [Victoria and Albert Museum]. A copy of the Turner in The Coach House, Bridport can be seen on

Martin Hopkinson,

Did the Royal Garrison Church , a 13th century building , have a tower like this before the firebomb of 1941?

Martin Hopkinson,

Could the future cathedral be hidden from sight by the ships?

Thank you for your comments about the location of the composition. We very much appreciate your efforts, enthusiasm and expertise!

Martin Hopkinson,

If the church tower no longer exists, the evidence points to a port which was damaged either in the First or Second World War

'DORC'T /No 3' on the sail -i.e. Dordrecht - suggests its riverine and within reasonable reach of there, Though apart from the windmill just right of the sail the buidings do not looks notably Dutch.

Martin Hopkinson,

Well spotted - indeed it does look liked the same town

Martin Hopkinson,

Was the church tower rebuilt in the late 19th century?

I agree, it does look like the same place but - if Dordrecht - with very considerable licence. The windmill on the right in the Rochdale picture has been switched to far left in the 2009 one, which initially made me think the latter might be flipped on screen, but it probably isn't since in both there is is a mass of large buildings closer in to right of the church tower. This itself is in no way convincingly the Grote Kerk at Dordrecht, with its distinctive clock faces and built on a much grander and more complex scale:,_Dordrecht

If it were the Grote Kerk from across the water the view would also be looking south-east which might just be credible for daybreak but not evening. Is / was there an alternative waterfront Dordecht church visible in a western aspect? I can't see one.

Martin Hopkinson,

Whatever towns of sufficient size on the river that passes Dordrecht should be considered? Those close to the sea are probably much altered in appearance by damage during WW2

Quite so; but it's a case of 'evidenced suggestions, please'!

Webb is a good painter but he does take liberties: its really just a matter of being sure he is doing so before coming to at least a provisional conclusion.

Martin Hopkinson,

1. Do we know how far Dordrecht vessels of this type travelled?
2. Are there surviving church towers in the Netherlands comparable in style to this one? It is very difficult to see how the Grote Kerk could have looked like this at any time?
3. There is one East coast English port , the sea front of which was completely altered by enemy naval bombardment in WW1, Hartlepool, but that seems rather far north for a vessel like this to travel. My knowledge of the distances that a vessel like this could travel is minimal
4 River towns east of Dordrecht much damaged in WW2 include Nijmegen and Arnhem , but further east the waterway might not be wide enough for consideration -Roermond, Maasstricht, A specialist on the Dutch waterways , Maas, Waal, Roer, Merwede etc might be able to help with useful information. Would vessels from Dordrecht have travelled to Walcheren to places like Vlissingen and Middelburg or even further up the Scheldt beyond Antwerp? As you can see, my ignorance of travel on tidal rivers is extreme.

It would be helpful to have well-evidenced suggestions from anyone in, or who knows, this area of the Netherlands better. If nothing turns up after a reasonable time then my suggestion will be to adjust the title to something like 'Evening scene: Dordrecht boats off a Dutch river townscape' and wind things up that way as an interim solution.

Martin Hopkinson,

Is the architecture of the tower more Flemish than Dutch see Getrudiskerk at Bergen op Zoom? - too far from the water, I think, to be our church, and with a cap [ which could have been a more recent addition]

Andrew Chamberlain,

There are some similarities to the tower of the Grote Kerk Veere so the architecture may be consistent with that part of the Netherlands.

Martin Hopkinson,

Indeed it does have similarities. Should we check the other churches on Walcheren and the area?

Martin Hopkinson,

Hellevoetsluis is the town at the mouth of one of the waterways directly connected to Dordrecht. It is much altered. Engravings may provide the answer as to our tower's whereabouts. Has any one consulted the Dordrechts Museum? or the historical museum of Rotterdam?

Martin Hopkinson,

This type of tower seems to be quite common in Zeeland

Andrew Chamberlain,

The style is sometimes referred to as Brabantine Gothic. Sint Livensmonstertoren in Zierikzee is an over-sized example.

Martin Hopkinson,

I think that we can probably use Pieter's helpful suggestion to 'Evening scene: Dordrecht boats off a Brabant river landscape' . It should be remembered that part of the historical Brabant lies in Belgium - but the evidence so far points to a site in Dutch Brabant

That would be fine too, but the sign-off is more with the 'British post 1800' group leader than 'maritime subjects' and I'd be inclined to leave it in play a bit longer to see if the location issue can resolve. That really does need to be by convincing visual-evidence attachments to get us anywhere further.

Kieran Owens,

The attached composite might give a helpful view of this scene. The boatmen's red caps, the striped covering on the small barge, the configuration of the sails, the distinctive bend on the mast tip and the red flag all are very similar. The work on the left has been identified as Dordrecht by James Webb.

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Working on the basis that they are the same place, the blow-up on the left is interesting. It has Dutch gables on some of the mid-ground buildings and the masts of deep-water ships in harbour beyond the church which suggests a rather more complex port topography than just the river in front.

Kieran Owens,

And of the difficulties in identifying this scene as Dordrecht stems for the question as to why James Webb, in the middle of the Victorian era, should have chosen to omit from the top of the Western tower of our supposed Grote Kerk the four massive clock faces that were erected in 1627, two of which can clearly be seen in Salomon van Ruysdael's ca. 1660 'View of Dordrecht', which is the collection of Princeton University Art Museum:

These clock faces have appeared in fairly much every painting and engraving of the church since the 1660s, and can be seen on any Googled image for the building.

The squat church depicted is this discussion is more in keeping with the style of Veere church in Zeeland.

Jacinto Regalado,

Kieran, there are only two clock faces now, as well as in Boudin's painting of 1874. Was the tower ever damaged and then restored with only two instead of four clock faces?

Jacinto Regalado,

Unless Webb took liberties, neither the tower in this picture nor in his view of Dordrecht linked above can be Dordrecht's Grote Kerk based on the greater number of windows on each side of its tower.

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, I am unsure as to what you mean by only two clock faces. Every painting, engraving and photograph that I have seen, from 1660 to today, including a street view from Google maps and Google Earth shows that there are four clock faces on the top of the tower, facing north, south, east and west. Have you an image with only tow faces? As for Boudin, he only shows two of the four faces as this would be all that could be seen from his vantage points. This certainly is the case in his work of 1884.

Jacinto Regalado,

I was misled by some photos taken at an angle that suggests only two faces, but now I have found other photos that appear to show four. However, the problem with the number of windows remains.

Martin Hopkinson,

Difficulties in identifying the exact location may be due to Webb combining features from a different drawings that he made , which he then used in the studio some time later. He is known on occasion for taking liberties with topography and as far as I know, none of his sketchbooks are in public collections . They may not survive.

In trying to progress this I just repeat that we need corroborative evidence for where it is, not where it is not , which - at least in any realistic sense - is not Dordrecht. The church makes that clear: it's not just details such as the well-known four clocks of the Grote Kerk and its far more complex fenestration, it's also the latter's massive overal 'cathedral' scale - compared to which the church here is a minor one.

Martin Hopkinson,

Henry James Stuart Brown's 1929 etching in the British Museum shows that that church tower is not at the waterside 1930,0412.38

Kieran Owens,

Assuming, just for the moment, that this painting did depict the Grote Kerk at Dordrecht, whose tower factually faces directly west, for Webb to have painted this picture he must have been positioned on a western bank of the Oude Maas river, looking eastwards towards the church. As the painting clearly shows the sunlight illuminating the sky over what then must be the eastern horizon, behind the church, this painting could not depict an evening scene.

If, however, this is an evening scene, then this church tower (if that is what it is), must be on such a western bank of its river, with Webb standing on an eastern bank. If this is somewhere in the Dordrecht/Rotterdam river system, then a search must concentrate elsewhere than the eastern river bank where the Grote Kerk stands.

Wherever this place is, if it depicts an evening scene, with the sun setting in west, then Webb must have been standing on an eastern position looking west, which means that the church tower would be facing in an easterly direction. Architectural historians of Dutch church buildings might have an opinion as to whether this is likely. If it turns out that all church towers were usually positioned at a churche's western end, then this scene must depict a sunrise at the start of a working day on a river.

It is possible, of course, that it is a complete work of fantasy, incorporating elements that just helped James Webb produce a pleasing image, one that was never intended to have either topographical or geographical accuracy.

Kieran Owens,

Oh, and the Veere church can be discounted for, although its tower is more of the shape of this discussion's one and is on the western end of its building, it is also on a western bank, and is surrounded by open countryside so has nothing of the population density depicted in this painting.

Kieran Owens,

Marion, would it be possible to post the PCF hi-res of the entire scene? Very important details have appeared on the ones that you have so far posted but being able to examine the whole line of urban buildings might reveal some other interesting details.

Andrea Kollmann,

While it doesn’t help with the location question, this painting shows that Webb knew the Grote Kerk and how to paint it quite realistically:

Kieran Owens,

Andrea, that is an excellent find.

Sander Paarlberg,

The painting doesn't depict Dordrecht, but it could have been based on a view of Dordrecht. Webb visited Dordrecht and made several views of Dordrecht in which he counterbalanced a sailing vessel with the massive tower of the Great Church. It seems that he repeated this compositional scheme without being topographically accurate in any way. It might have been derived from Dordrecht sketches, but I think he turned it into a completely fictional skyline. He might have been more interested in creating a river view with clear references to famous views of Dordrecht, such as Turner's renowned 'Dort or Dordrecht. The Dort Packet Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed'. Webb's composition in reverse does immediately recall Turner's famous painting. The pier in low water towards the city (albeit without the reeds), the large ship waiting for the water to rise and the spectacular light all seem to be derived from Turner. The red flag looks similar to that of the Dordrecht packet boat 'the Swan'. The opulent paraphrasing might be more important than pinpointing an exact location.

I'm moving in a similar direction: there's not a Dutch gable end to be seen, nor do the smaller boats have a recognizably Dutch look to me, though local knowledge might do better.

I suggest we now wrap this up. Grant Waters' produced what is, in effect, a mirror reversal of a very similar topography by Webb swith 'Dord' inscribed on it, though I am not clear if that was - as in a variation in our puzzle-picture - on the sail of a boat or otherwise. This was sold in 2009 as Dordrecht, probably only for that reason, not on topographical veracity. There is something on a sail in it but not readable when enlarged, and the signature, with or without 'Dord' by it, is not visible at all:

The boat group also appears, with a similar Dordrecht inscription on a sail, in another study that (whether in the Zuyder Zee or not) is in open water, not obviously off Dordrecht:

The central, somewhat ruinous and small-scale church in the two finished pictures is not the Grote Kerk at Dordrecht however and the rearrangement of many of the background town features, including the mill which appears far left in the painting sold in 2009 and far right in the Rochdale one, suggest both are substantially 'capriccio' works based on Webb's visit(s) to the Netherlands, since no-one -including input from local knowledge - has been able to be more specific. It has also been suggested the church architecture is 'Brabant gothic' (ie possibly southern Netherlands).

Even though only one of the large boats has a 'Dort' inscription I suggest that a better description might therefore be 'Evening scene: Dordrecht passage boats off a Netherlands river townscape' or ' 'Dutch [or 'Netherlands'] evening scene: Dordrecht passage boats off a river townscape'. The 'passage' - to anticipate queries -indicates vessels doing a regular run, usually for passengers as well as baggage and some cargo, with at least one end a fixed base be it as the port they belonged to or/and their regular destination. A familiar English equivalent would be the 'Margate hoys' that (until the coming of steam) did the regular run ending there from London. (Turner's 'Swan' becalmed off Dordrecht was another such).

Martin Hopkinson,

Liverpool Academy 1865 no 272 James Webb 'Dortwright [sic]'
1867 no 129 James Web 'Dordrecht'

Thanks Martin: no doubt both are Dordrecht, despite the variations of spelling, and are separate pictures I assume rather thna the same one shown within two years. Neither may be the present one, but it simply underlines that Webb did 'varations on the same themes'.

My recommendaion to the collection remains as immediately above and when we hear what they want to do this can conclude; though perhaps 'the office' can prompt as this has been hanging around quite some time.

We are still waiting for the collection to come to a conclusion on the recommended change of title (or an alternative) for this picture, prior to closing the discussion. ' Pour encourager' I attach my biographical summary on him, of which part appeared in the course of the earlier Art UK discussion on him that generated the information in it from those acknowledged at the bottom: this was (astonishingly far back) in 2016 and about a picture at Sheffield now retitled 'View of a Spanish Mediterranean Coast and Fort'. It's significantly more informative than appears anywhere else of which I am aware.

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Pieter, thank you very much for the detailed biographical summary on Webb. Our usual collection contact is on maternity leave. I have contacted one of her colleagues, so we should receive a reply soon.

Thanks Marion: while I don't think there is any reason to change the suggestion for a more descriptive but not 'town-specific' title the link below (not so far included) to another of Webb's canvases claiming to be Dordrecht is worth noting as further evidence of his practice of doing differing variations on a theme. It again includes the same general boat group at centre but the church tower at the back is still undersized to be convincing as the 'Grotekerk'.