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William James Webbe (British, fl.1853-1878)
William James Webbe (British, fl.1853-1878)

The Shadow of a Rock

Details
William James Webbe (British, fl.1853-1878)
The Shadow of a Rock
oil on canvas
48 x 38 in. (121.9 x 96.5 cm.)
Provenance
Arthur R. Jackson, London, by 1888.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 18 June 1998, lot 146.

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Alexandra McMorrow
Alexandra McMorrow

Lot Essay

William Webbe is an interesting and mysterious figure in the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Even the spelling of his name is uncertain, 'Webb' and 'Webbe' both occurring in early records, and we do not know the dates of either his birth or death. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1853, his earliest pictures are painstaking studies of animals, birds and flowers, often with a touch of humour. By 1861, he had a studio in Langham Chambers, London, where many of the Pre-Raphaelites gathered. Millais and Ford Maddox Brown had a studio there and another resident, the portrait painter Lowes Dickinson organized life classes which were attended during the same period by Rossetti and his two followers, Burne-Jones and William Morris. But the Pre-Raphaelite painter to whom Webbe was most indebted was William Holman Hunt. Webbe's studies of sheep suggest that he was deeply impressed by Hunt's moralising paintings on this theme. In 1862 Webbe paid a visit to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, presumably inspired by the one that Hunt made in 1834-6 and the works which had resulted from it, The Scapegoat (Port Sunlight), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 and The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (Birmingham). It is not known how long Webbe stayed in the East, or whether he made more than one journey. He exhibited his first Eastern subject A Shepherd of Jerusalem, at the Royal Academy in 1863 and sent them regularly until 1870, when he showed The Rain Cloud, Palestine. Images of sheep and shepherding continued to dominate these works. Webbe continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1878. He also showed at the British Institution (1855-1864), at Suffolk Street and elsewhere. Webbe works tend to be rare. He showed only twenty pictures in all at the Royal Academy and eight at the British Institution. The present picture was obviously inspired by Webbe's experience in the East and can be dated to the later 1860s. The large mass filling the background is a motif found in other works based on his Palestinian travels.

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