His father was the marine and coastal painter Archibald Webb (c.1792-1883) and his elder brother was Byron Webb (1831-67), who specialised in hunting and animal pictures.
Webb is thought to have studied under his father but, as his career progressed, he became more influenced by Romantic painters including leading lights such as JMW Turner.
His large-scale and atmospheric compositions, for which he frequently took liberties with the topography for dramatic effect, were certainly popular in their day. They were also financially rewarding – enabling him to invest considerable amounts in the stock market which, at one point, made him fantastically wealthy (although later losses and mortgage liabilities meant he had to file for bankruptcy).
Webb’s views of London are a notable part of his oeuvre. A finely composed view of Old Kew Bridge is now in the Museum of London while, back in 1991, a sweeping view of St Paul’s Cathedral from across the Thames set a record £25,000 when it sold Christie’s.
But while the artist’s market has sagged somewhat since those stronger days, as is the case with many 19th century painters, a boost came back in January this year when a large-scale painting titled The Majesty of Greenwich made $65,000 (£52,731) at Sotheby’s New York. It was the fourth-highest price recorded for Webb according to Artprice.
More recently, a smaller painting of Greenwich emerged at Gorringe’s (25% buyer’s premium) on March 13. Showing Greenwich Palace from a different angle, the 13½ x 19¾in (34 x 50cm) oil on panel was signed and inscribed by the artist on the back with the date 1879-80.
Pitched at £400-600 in the Lewes sale, it always looked likely to generate competition and it was eventually knocked down at £7000 via thesaleroom.com.
While The Majesty of Greenwich picture was a different proposition on account of being almost three times the size and a much more ambitious composition, a more comparable picture was a view of the City of London, about a third larger than the current work, that made £13,000 at Sotheby’s in 2000.