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John Webb (1799–1880) and Edith Cragg (died 1925)

Webb’s collection of furniture, porcelain and other objets d’art was ultimately sold in 1925 by the executors of his daughter, Edith Cragg, and realised over £15,180 7s., most of the notable prices being achieved by items of the Louis XV or XVI periods.68 Lots 116 and 117 of the 1925 paintings sale, two vedute there attributed to Francesco Guardi, were described as ‘from the Manfrini Gallery’, a reference to the Manfrin collection in Venice which was dispersed in the years 1856–97.69 They were nos 375 and 376 of the catalogue of that collection published in 1856,70 but were not in the sale of part of the collection which took place that year.71 They were not in the sale by one of the heirs to the collection, the Marchese Antonio Maria Plattis in Paris in 1870,72 nor do they appear in a catalogue published in 1872 of the paintings belonging to the other heir, the Marchese Bortolina Plattis,73 so Webb most likely acquired the pictures by private treaty when he was in Venice in 1857.74 The few facts available concerning the dates when Webb acquired the paintings that he left to his daughter suggest that his purchases as a collector occurred from the end of the 1840s when he was already well established in the furniture business, and that the amounts that he was prepared to venture were quite modest. The nature of what he collected was also somewhat different to the nature of the pictures in which he dealt. Since Webb’s sale in 1869 was announced as consequent on his moving from the Grafton Street premises,75 it may be assumed that he was selling stock rather than part of his collection as such – that is if he made any clear distinction between the two categories. The 1869 sale consisted of 69 lots, of which only one, a decorative panel by de Witte, was not a portrait. Webb had also had a sale two years earlier.76 This too was mainly of historical portraits and the low prices achieved suggest a surplus sale, perhaps an initial disposal in contemplation of retirement. By way of contrast, approximately one half of the paintings in the 1925 sale were other than portraits. As well as the bequests to the Gallery, the attributions in the 1925 catalogue suggest that Webb had a preference for French eighteenth-century paintings, not unusual among collectors in the later nineteenth century. There were paintings by, or at least attributed to, Bilcoq, Boucher, Chardin, Drouais, Grimou, Lancret, Lemoine, Jean-Baptiste van Loo, Nattier, possibly Perronneau,77 Schall,78 Vernet and Watteau. There was, however, also a smaller grouping of settecento pictures – the Guardis already mentioned, Canaletto, Panini, Vanvitelli and Zuccarelli – and there were other paintings attributed to masters as diverse as Arellano, Bassano, Cuyp, Holbein, Netscher, Rubens and Wilkie.79 Such eclecticism perhaps echoed Webb’s activities as a furniture supplier, as ready to work to Pugin’s designs as he was to make reproduction Boulle.

68The Times, 25 and 26 June 1925.

69 On this collection, see Penny 2004, pp. 209–10; and Penny 2008, p. 321.

70Catalogo dei Quadri esistenti nella Galleria Manfrin in Venezia, Venice 1856.

71 NG Archives, Board Minutes, 9 June 1856.

72 Delbergue, Paris, 13–14 May 1870. I am grateful to Suz Massen of the Frick Art Reference Library for this information.

73 [Nicoletti] 1872.

74 For Webb’s visit to Venice with his wife, see Westgarth 2009, p. 182.

75 Christie’s, 24–25 June 1925.

76 Christie’s, 5 April 1867.

77 According to Wildenstein, through whose hands passed Perronneau’s Portrait of a Man (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 65.2652), the painting had belonged to ‘Mrs. Cragg, England’.

78 The painting by Schall was auctioned in London: Christie’s, 3 December 2008, lot 193.

79 The Holbein portrait of Sir Henry Guildford, lot 118 of the 1925 sale, had been exhibited at South Kensington in 1866: The Times, 27 June 1925.