Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Webster, Thomas (1800-1886)

634997Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60 — Webster, Thomas (1800-1886)1899Campbell Dodgson

WEBSTER, THOMAS (1800–1886), painter, was born in Ranelagh Street, Pimlico, on 20 March 1800. His father, who held an appointment in the household of George III, took the boy to Windsor, where he remained till the king's death. He showed an early taste for music, and became a chorister at St. George's Chapel, but abandoned music for painting, and in 1821 became a student at the Royal Academy. He exhibited a portrait-group in 1823, and gained the first prize for painting in 1825. In that year he exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery 'Rebels shooting a Prisoner,' the first of those pictures of schoolboy life by which he won his reputation. In 1828 he exhibited 'The gunpowder Plot' at the Royal Academy, and in 1829 'The Prisoner' and 'A Foraging Party aroused' at the British Institution. These were followed by numerous other pictures of school and village life at both galleries. In 1840 Webster was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1846 an academician. He continued to be a frequent exhibitor till 1876, when he retired from the academy. He exhibited his own portrait in 1878, and 'Released from School,' his last picture, in 1879.

From 1835 to 1856 he resided at The Mall, Kensington, but the last thirty years of his life were spent at Cranbrook, Kent, where he died on 23 Sept. 1886.

In the limited range of subjects which he made his own, Webster is unrivalled. Two good specimens of his work, 'A Dame's School' and 'The Truant,' were presented to the National Gallery in 1847 as part of the Vernon collection. The painter bequeathed to the nation the portrait of his father and mother, painted in the fiftieth year of their marriage, which he had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. Six pictures by him, including 'The Village Choir' and 'Sickness and Health.' are in the Sheepshanks collection at the South Kensington Museum. Three more in the same museum formed part of the Jones bequest. 'The Smile,' 'The Frown,' 'The Boy with Many Friends,' are among the numerous pictures which are well known by engravings. Webster contributed etchings of similar subjects by his own hand to the following volumes issued by the Etching Club: 'The Deserted Village,' 1841; 'Songs of Shakespeare,' 1843; and 'Etch'd Thoughts,' 1844.

[Sandby's Hist, of Royal Academy, ii. 177; Catalogues of the National Gallery and of the Pictures in the South Kensington Museum; Times, 24 Sept. 1886; Men of the Time, 1884.1]

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