Webb’s activity as a collector of paintings remains to be analysed, but some indications can be offered here. According to Wainwright, his name occurred constantly as a buyer at auctions in London and Paris.19 However, this assessment is probably more applicable to the decorative arts than to old master paintings.20 So far as paintings are concerned, to judge from the Christie’s catalogues for the period 1830–63 in the National Gallery library (admittedly a partial sample of the hundreds of catalogues produced by various auction houses during this period), his presence was more intermittent than constant.21 The matter is complicated by there having been a collector of the same name who lived until 1848;22 but to extrapolate backwards from the 1855 Bernal sale (discussed below), when Webb was more inclined to buy miniatures and small portraits on his own behalf than larger, more expensive, paintings, it is likely that his first purchases at Christie’s were of two small oval portraits by Sir A. More and Gonzales respectively at the posthumous sale on 12 June 1841 of the Marquess of Camden.23 For similar reasons, it seems probable that he was the Webb who bought two portraits on enamel, one of Henry, Prince of Wales, the other of Frederick III of Saxony, both by Henry Bone and included in the artist’s sale of 1 May 1846. Webb bought a portrait of a young man said to be by Holbein at the 1842 Strawberry Hill sale (where he also bid on behalf of the Duke of Bedford for historical portraits), and he was a buyer at Christie’s on 4–5 May 1849 at the sale of the so-called Montcalm Gallery when he bought two paintings by Giovanni Paolo Panini which were to be included in his daughter’s posthumous sale in 1925.24 Thereafter, Webb bought three lots at each of the sales of William Coningham and R. Nicholson in 1849, one at the Robert Hutchison sale in 1851, and one at each of the two Samuel Woodburn sales in 1853 and 1854. In 1854 he also bought three paintings at the sale of Thomas Emmerson, bidding at a higher level than hitherto,25 and in 1857 Watteau’s The Artist’s Dream at the James Goding sale for £37 16s. This last painting was acquired, presumably from Webb, by John Ashley, 6th Earl of Shaftesbury, by 1867.26 None of these purchases was to reappear in the 1925 sale.27 Indirect reinforcement for the proposal that Webb’s acquisitions during this period were limited derives from the fact that when Chardin’s The Young Schoolmistress (NG 4077), one of the paintings which his daughter later bequeathed to the Gallery, was auctioned in 1850, it was not Webb but another dealer, Fuller, who bought it. Similarly, it was Fuller, not Webb, who in 1848 had bought another Chardin at the John Newington Hughes deceased sale, later to be auctioned in the 1925 sale of Edith Cragg deceased.28 It is possible, however, that in one or both cases Fuller was acting as Webb’s agent. The apparent tentativeness of Webb’s acquisitions of paintings changed in 1855 when he emerged as a major buyer in all categories of works of art, including paintings, at the Ralph Bernal sale. Then, in addition to miniatures and mainly unattributed pictures sold under the heading ‘Small Portraits’, 55 pictures were sold to him.29 The Times would report in 1925 on the occasion of the Edith Cragg sale that ‘many appear to have been acquired at the great sale of Ralph Bernal in 1855’.30 In fact of the 62 lots in the 1925 sale only one, a small panel by Bilcoq, can with reasonable certainty be identified with an item in the 1855 sale,31 and even in that case it was not bought by Webb then but only eight years later.32 It is clear that Webb was not acting as a collector at the sale, but as a dealer or agent.33 When the catalogue of the 1855 sale was republished later that year with the names of those then in possession of the lots, nine of the paintings knocked down to Webb were shown as owned by the Duke of Hamilton, six by Charles Mills, four by John Allcard and three by each of Francis Baring and the Marquess of Londonderry. Other owners in 1857 of lots which had been knocked down to Webb included George R. Smith and Thomas Baring MP. By the end of 1855 only five of the 55 pictures Webb had bought remained in his possession.34 From that it can be inferred that, unless Webb turned over his stock with astonishing rapidity, his purchases were in almost all cases made on behalf of clients. The most acquisitive buyer for whom Webb acted at the Bernal sale was Francis Barchard of Horsted Place, East Sussex, who acquired 11 sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings.35 Barchard had had Horsted Place built in 1850–1 in Tudor style with a staircase designed by Pugin,36 and it was John Webb who supplied the furniture.37 Since the Bernal pictures were likely of more interest as illustrations of historical costume than as aesthetic objects, Webb and Barchard might both have seen the former’s activity at the Bernal sale as not much more than an extension of his usual business of furniture supply. Horsted Place was built by George Myers, Pugin’s favourite builder.38 Myers had also worked at Burton Closes, the summer residence near Bakewell, which another of Webb’s clients, the Quaker banker John Allcard (1779–1856), had built in about 1845–8 in an Elizabethan style with interiors designed by Pugin.39 The four ex-Bernal paintings in Allcard’s collection were seventeenth century and so not quite in keeping with the neo-gothic/Elizabethan architecture of Burton Closes.40 They may have been hung at one of Allcard’s other residences at Stafford Green, Essex, or Connaught Place, Hyde Park.41
The six ex-Bernal pictures acquired by Charles Mills, a partner in the bank Glyn, Mills & Co, who would be created a baronet in November 1868, were attributed to artists working in the seventeenth and/or eighteenth-centuries (two to ‘Mignard’, one to Lely, one to Palomino, one to Rigaud and one to Largillierre). There was no apparent connection between the period of the paintings and that of either of Mills’s residences, the Regency period Camelford House, Park Lane,42 or the neoclassical Hillingdon Court built in the 1850s.43 However, if Mills hung the paintings at Hillingdon Court, it would fit in with the pattern of Webb acquiring pictures to furnish his clients’ newly built properties. Nevertheless, the period bias in Mills’s picture acquisitions from the Bernal sale was not really echoed by the Hillingdon collection of French furniture, which was known for porcelain-mounted pieces of the second half of the eighteenth century.44 Nor were all of Webb’s clients furnishing recently built properties.
After Barchard, the next most acquisitive buyer from the Bernal sale was William, 11th Duke of Hamilton.45 His purchases were most likely all for his London townhouse, Hamilton House, Arlington Street, Piccadilly.46 Two paintings ascribed to Vanvitelli, views of the Tuileries and the Seine and of the Pont Neuf respectively,47 were hung on the principal staircase of Hamilton House. A half-length portrait of Charles I ascribed in the Bernal sale to Mytens48 was probably the painting in the corridor ascribed to Van Dyck in 1864.49 According to the 1864 inventory of Hamilton House, the entrance hall contained portraits of Charles II, Madame de Maintenon, maréchal de Saxe, Prince Charles Edward and maréchal de Foix. The portrait of Prince Charles Edward was not among the paintings in the Bernal sale. Otherwise, the portraits inventoried were probably those ascribed respectively in the Bernal sale to Nason,50 Mignard,51 Rigaud52 and again to Rigaud.53 Finally, a portrait ascribed to Hughtenborg, and said to be of Princess Maria Clementina Sobieski of Poland (mother of Bonnie Prince Charlie), on horseback, was hung in the duke’s sitting room. Godfrey Evans has pointed out to me that the placing of this last portrait is a reflection of the 11th Duke’s interest in the Jacobites,54 and that the duke’s purchase of portraits of Charles I and Charles II mirrors his keen appreciation of the importance of those kings to the Dukes of Hamilton.55 He has suggested that the other Bernal portraits bought by the duke indicate his orientation towards France, partly in continuation of the interest of his father, who had important contacts at the Napoleonic court and bought outstanding Ancien Régime furniture, and partly reflecting the fact that the 11th Duke was himself married to a cousin of Napoleon III and involved in French court life.56 Webb certainly acted for the 11th Duke in the London salerooms on at least one further occasion, buying on his behalf two items in 1860 at the John Swaby deceased sale.57 Another connection with Webb was the 11th Duke’s collection of Limoges enamels, some of which he exhibited to eye-catching effect at the 1862 South Kensington Exhibition,58 of which Webb was one of the guarantors.59
There is no reason to suppose that following the Bernal sale there was any significant change in Webb’s modus operandi. From 1856 until 1863 his purchases at Christie’s were again intermittent and, with the exception of the Bilcoq mentioned above, no painting so acquired formed part of his daughter’s posthumous sale in 1925.60 During this period only one of Webb’s old master purchases among the sales that have been examined was for a sum in three figures: namely, a View of the Thames from Temple Gardens by Canaletto which fetched £141.61 Ralph Bernal’s collection was announced as a principal source when Webb himself came to sell Sèvres porcelain, (mainly) French furniture and 75 historical portraits at Christie’s in 1869, including Drouais’s Madame de Pompadour at a Tambour Frame, now in the National Gallery (NG 6440).62 As has been shown, this was not the case so far as paintings were concerned, where Webb was buying mainly on behalf of clients.63 One painting that appeared both in the Bernal sale and Webb’s 1869 sale was a portrait of Joanna, Countess of Abergavenny. At the Bernal sale it was bought by Webb for Reginald Neville, Esq., for £54 12s. as by Holbein. It was sold by Webb in 1869 as by an unknown artist for £210.64 Conceivably Webb was selling on Neville’s behalf, and this may have been the case with another Bernal painting which most likely reappeared in Webb’s 1869 sale: namely, a portrait by Mignard of Madame de Maintenon which Webb had bought in 1855 for the Duke of Hamilton.65
Whether Webb was repurchasing pictures from clients, or selling on their behalf, the Bernal sale indicates the range of Webb’s clientele concerned with paintings. In addition to those for whom Webb acted at the Bernal sale, he had business relationships with the estate of Karl Aders, whose sixteenth-century copy of Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb Webb housed for many years,66 and with Lord Taunton, whose The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Crivelli (NG 739) was delivered to the National Gallery in 1864 from Webb’s Cork Street premises.67
19 Wainwright 2002, p. 64.
20 I have not considered Webb’s acquisitions of modern British pictures which he made from time to time: for example, at the sale of Messrs. Lloyd Brothers on 29 March 1867: The Times, 30 March 1867, p. 12.
21 The collection in the Gallery’s library is extensive but incomplete.
22 See note 1.
23 Lots 6 and 7.
24 See lot 53 of day 20 of the Strawberry Hill sale for Webb’s purchase on his own behalf, and lot 94 of the following day for that on behalf of the Duke of Bedford. Lot 17 of the 1849 sale was described as ‘Pannini. Christ driving the Moneychangers out of the Temple and the companion’. Webb paid £8 8s. The pair formed lot 141 of the Edith Cragg sale in 1925 where described as ‘G.P. Pannini. Christ expelling the Money-Changers; and The Stoning of St. Stephen: Designs for ceilings – a pair 2. 15½ in. by 10 in.’. They were sold for £42 to Lewis & Simmons.
25 Lot 57, £53 11s. (‘A. Durer – Portrait of the Artist’); lot 63, £51 9s. (‘Van Eyck – St. Giles seated in a landscape’); and lot 72, £131 5s. (‘Watteau – A grand fête champêtre … a party of ladies, in a car drawn by four white horses, are halting on the left’). This is not Jean-Baptiste Pater, Fête galante with a Couple dancing, Musicians and Onlookers (NG 4079), which has no horses in it, white or otherwise. No painting in the 1854 Thomas Emmerson sale corresponds to the Studio of Boucher Les Deux Confidentes (NG 4080), which The Times was later wrongly to state was acquired there by Webb: The Times, 24 June 1925, p. 13. I am grateful to Michael Hardy for sending the National Gallery a copy of this catalogue.
26 Eidelberg 2002, pp. 218–19. The painting was lot 503 of the James Goding sale, sold on 21 February 1857.
27 William Coningham sale, 9 June 1849, lots 1, 39, 54; Anon. (R. Nicholson of York deceased), 13–14 July 1849, lots 170, 189, 209; Robert Hutchison sale, 4 May 1851, lot 219; Samuel Woodburn sale, 24–25 June 1853, lot 120, and Samuel Woodburn sale, 15–25 May 1854, lot 49.
28 Christie’s, 14–15 April 1848, lot 27, £2 6s. to Fuller, there described as ‘The Artist in his Studio’. It was lot 109 of the 1925 sale, and there identified as from the collection of J.N. Hughes: The Times, 24 June 1925, p. 13.
29 According to a marked-up copy of the sale catalogue in the National Gallery library. The total number excludes miniatures and lots appearing under the heading ‘Small Portraits’.
30 The Times, 24 June 1925, p. 13.
31 Lot 105 of the 1925 sale was described as ‘Bilcoq. A Lady, in slate-coloured dress, seated by a table on which is a marble bust, books and other objects, holding an open book. Signed, and dated 1782. On panel – 7 in. by 6 in.’. It most likely corresponds to lot 625 of the Bernal sale of 1855 there described as ‘Bilcoq. A lady seated reading at a table, on which is a bust of Homer – 7 in. by 6 in.’, £11 11s. to Emery. Lot 99 of the 1925, a drawing after F. Zuccaro of Princess Elizabeth treading on a Tortoise, was described in the catalogue as from the Bernal sale.
32 It was bought by Emery at the 1855 sale. Webb bought it at the G.H. Morland sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, 9 May 1863, lot 134, £13 13s.
33 An undated bill from John Webb to the 11th Duke of Hamilton shows Webb charging 5 per cent commission on purchases made for the duke at the 1860 Swaby sale. I am grateful to Godfrey Evans for this information (letter of 17 September 2008).
34 Illustrated Catalogue of the Distinguished Collection of Works of Art and Vertu … collected by the late Ralph Bernal, Esq … with the Purchasers’ Names and Prices, London 1855. The figures for the number of pictures bought and subsequently retained by Webb exclude miniatures and small, mainly unattributed, portraits, in which case Webb’s retentions were proportionately greater.
35 According to annotations to the copy catalogue of the 1855 Bernal sale in the National Gallery’s library, which were apparently made on a visit to Horsted Place in 1933, and apparently informed by conversation with Mrs Barchard.
36 Nairn and Pevsner 1965, p. 564.
37 Jarvis 1972, no. B6. According to this source the furniture was supplied by Webb from an address at 13 George Street, Hanover Square, but ‘it is possible … that Webb acted as a middleman and obtained the Gothic furniture at Horsted from the firm of J.G. Crace, who normally executed Pugin’s designs, and may have had some furniture by him in stock at the time of his death in 1852’.
38 Nairn and Pevsner 1965.
39 Beale 2002, pp. 78, 83, note 43; and Pevsner and Williamson 1978, pp. 77–8. Paxton designed the conservatory at Burton Closes (Beale, op. cit.). Apparently one of his daughters, Victoria, was married to George, one of John Allcard’s sons: Spectator, 31 January 1857, p. 33.
40 For photographs of Burton Closes taken in about 1855, see Jan Stetka, Paxton and Pugin at Burton Closes, posted online in connection with planning application NP/DDD/0513/0409, at pam.peakdistrict.gov.uk. I am grateful to Jan K. Stetka for the information on Allcard’s other residences. Allcard died at Connaught Place: The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, May 1856, p. 551.
42 For Camelford House, see British Library Cartographic Items Crace Port. 10.63; and Edward Walford, ‘Apsley House and Park Lane’, Old and New London: Volume 4, London 1878, pp. 359–75 at British History Online: www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol4/pp359-375
43 ‘Hillingdon, including Uxbridge: Introduction’, in Baker, Cockburn and Pugh 1971, pp. 55–69, at British History Online: www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/mddx/vol4/pp.55-69
44 Dauterman and Parker 1959–60; Rieder 2002; and The Dimitri Mavrommatis Collection: Important French Furniture and Sèvres Porcelain from the Chester Square Residence, London, Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 2008, lot 52.
45 William Alexander Archibald Hamilton (1811–1863) succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1852.
46 I am grateful to Godfrey Evans for information about the ex-Bernal paintings in the 11th Duke of Hamilton’s collection, and for sending me a transcript of relevant parts of Inventory of Household Furniture[,] Pictures[,] Rare China, Ornaments & c & c [at] Hamilton House[,] Arlington Street[,] Piccadilly London, December 1864 (Hamilton Archive, M4/78), which was compiled after the duke’s death the previous year. The papers of the Dukes of Hamilton and Brandon are held privately: the UK National Register of Archives notes, correspondence and papers of the 11th duke under record number NRAS2177 (information kindly supplied by Alison Lindsay).
47 Lots 868 and 871 of the Bernal sale.
48 Lot 796.
49 Hamilton Archive, M4/78, p. 76.
50 Lot 794, where the measurements are given as 46 x 36 in. Hamilton bought another portrait of Charles II at the Bernal sale (lot 653 ascribed to van Thulden), but its size (13 x 19 in.) was considerably smaller than the other portraits here noted as hanging in the entrance hall, making it a less likely companion.
51 Lot 675, where said to have been bought at the Quintin Craufurd sale. On Craufurd, see Wine 2001, p. 252, note 1; and J.M.J. Rogister, ‘Craufurd, Quintin (1743–1819)’, ODNB (where the index entry describes him as ‘author and friend of the French royal family’).
52 Lot 787, where described as a portrait of Marshal de Belle-Isle, in armour, wearing the badge of the Saint-Esprit and Golden Fleece. It was catalogued as by ‘Van Loo’ in Christie’s 1882 Hamilton Palace sale catalogue (lot 1114), but the post-sale catalogue corrected the attribution to ‘H. Rigaud’ and the identification to ‘Mareschal Fouqet de Belle Isle, great grandson of the Minister of Louis XIV’, and noted that it had been lot 787 of the Bernal sale.
53 Lot 786, where described as a portrait of ‘Marshal Vauban’. Catalogued as ‘Marechal de Foix’ by ‘H. Rigaud’ in the 1882 Hamilton Palace sale, it was identified as a portrait of ‘Vauban’ in the post-sale catalogue with a reference to lot 786 of the Bernal sale added.
54 On this interest, see Evans 2003, especially pp. 138–48.
55 Charles I had bestowed the dukedom upon the family in 1643, and the first and second dukes had died supporting Charles I and Charles II in the Civil War.
56 The duke died in Paris in July 1863. His body was taken to Glasgow on board a French man-of-war, while his widow and children stayed at Saint-Cloud with the Empress: The Times, 17 July 1863, p. 12.
57 Phillips, London, 5–13 March 1860. There is an undated bill from Webb in the Hamilton Archive, bundle 679, for ‘a portrait of Alexander King of Scotland’ and ‘a fine old miniature of Charles’, costing £54 and £32 respectively. Webb charged commission of £4 6s. on these, that is to say 5 per cent. Annotations at the bottom of the bill record that Webb was already owed £524 by the duke, so bringing the total outstanding to £614 6s. Webb apparently received £314 ‘By Cash’ on 19 July 1860, so reducing the outstanding amount to £300. I am grateful to Godfrey Evans for this information.
58 McLeod 2001, p. 369. For a Limoges triptych which caught the eye of The Times correspondent, see p. 5 of the 9 June 1862 issue of that newspaper. For the pieces exhibited by the 11th Duke of Hamilton, see Robinson 1863, passim.
59 Hamilton was also one of the guarantors for the purchase of the Soulages collection in 1858 (which Webb helped organise): The Times, 1 May 1858, p. 5. Hamilton spent much of his time in Paris, to which Webb made frequent visits: Wainwright 2002, passim.
60 According to the catalogues which I have checked, Webb bought at the following Christie & Manson sales: Samuel Rogers dcsd., 28 April – 20 May 1856; Thomas Emmerson dcsd., 21–31 May 1856; Edmund Phipps dcsd., 25 June 1859; Isambard K. Brunel dcsd., 20–21 April 1860; Anon. (Fauconnier?), 5 May 1860; Percy Ashburnham, 19 May 1860; Charles Scarisbrick dcsd., 17–18 May 1861; G.H. Morland, 9 May 1863; Walter Davenport Bromley, 12 June 1863; John Allnatt dcsd., 18 June 1863.
61 Sale of the Hon. Edmund Phipps deceased, Christie’s, 25 June 1859, lot 51, £141. Whereabouts now unknown: see Constable 1976, vol. 2, p. 416, discussed under no. 425.
62 Christie, Manson & Woods, 20 March 1869, lot 69. According to the catalogue, a number of the lots came from the Bernal collection, which was the subject of sales in the years 1853–5. See also the announcement of the 1869 sale in The Times, 18 March 1869, according to which the sale was a consequence of the sale by Webb of his property in Grafton Street. The date of the sale must therefore be the terminus ante quem for Webb’s retirement, which he had been contemplating since 1867: Wainwright 2002, pp. 69–70. Whether the 1869 sale was of Webb’s stock or of all or part of his private collection – if indeed he made a distinction between the two – is not clear. One picture in Webb’s 1869 sale then unsold and which reappeared in the 1925 sale was the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford by Holbein (lot 41 of the 1869 sale and lot 118 of the 1925 sale).
63 Webb may have later bought some pictures from clients for whom he acted at the Bernal sale, but it has not been possible to identify pictures which were both in the Bernal sale and Webb’s 1869 sale other than as mentioned in the text. The lot descriptions in the 1869 sale are usually less precise than those in the 1855 sale, many of which included dimensions.
64 Lot 928 of the Bernal sale and lot 40 of Webb’s 1869 sale where sold to Aerst.
65 Lot 675 of the Bernal sale was described as ‘Mignard. Madame de Maintenon, in a yellow damask dress, and blue robe lined with ermine, her hand resting on a book, seated at a table, on which is an hour-glass – 52 in. by 40 in. This important portrait was purchased at the Sale of Quintin Crawford.’ It then sold for £84. It was probably lot 55 of Webb’s 1869 sale and there described as ‘Mignard. Madame de Maintenon, in a yellow brocade dress and blue velvet robe lined with ermine, seated holding a book’ (£40 19s. to Durlacher). However, as Godfrey Evans has pointed out, it should be noted that the 1882 Hamilton Palace sale included (lot 1113) a portrait of Mme de Maintenon seated in an ermine robe and holding a book in her left hand which was the same size as lot 675 of the Bernal sale.
66 Davies 1999, p. 108.
67 NG Archive.