We use cookies to improve your experience, some are essential for the operation of this site. About cookies we use. Continue
Home
Favourites
0
Advanced search
Shopping cart
0
RegisterLog in

Mary Webster's watercolours of Scottish travels

of 275
Mary Webster's watercolours of Scottish travels
Mary Webster's watercolours of Scottish travels
Girls and young women of upper class families of the 18th century didn't usually learn domestic or academic skills but were coached in what were known as ‘accomplishments’. These would be learned either at boarding school or from a resident governess. In Jane Austin’s 'Pride and Prejudice', the snobbish Caroline Bingley lists the skills required by any young lady who considers herself accomplished:
"A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages…"

During the 19th century both landscape painting, as a subject matter, and the medium of watercolour became a popular pastime and were included in the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy summer exhibitions. Queen Victoria’s interest in watercolour made the practice attractive to both professionals and amateurs and another suitable artistic accomplishment for a refined young woman.

By the mid 19th century, transportation was getting much easier with the railway network flourishing. By 1852 there was 7,000 miles of rail track in England and Scotland. With the advent of the railway, there was in turn, the need for accommodation. During the Victorian era, when you stepped out of a railway station in any self-respecting town or city, the first building you would set eyes upon would be the railway hotel, providing a relatively safe option for a young woman travelling alone.

We have a fine collection of watercolour paintings by a woman named Mary Webster which span the period 1824 to 1863. She seems to have greatly enjoyed travelling Scotland and further afield sketching her adventures. Sadly, despite exhaustive searches we have been unable to find out much about Mary's life, other than the few clues that are contained in the pictures themselves.

There was a short entry in The Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture which stated that her work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. However, searching the RSA Exhibitors Catalogues from 1830-1860 failed to turn up any trace of Mary and we have been unable to verify this assertion.

Reading Museum also hold a painting by Mary Webster - ‘A naive view of the ruins of Reading Abbey’ - but they had no further information about her either.

The dates of the paintings and pencil drawings in our collection date from 1824 to 1863 and the majority of the paintings had been bound together in an album titled 'Views from Nature'. 1830 was a particularly busy time for Mary as 44 paintings are credited to that year alone! Of the 150 paintings in the collection, all but 9 feature Scottish views. Her painting travels took her far and wide, including to the Borders, Perthsire, Fife, the Highlands and Dublin. We don't know if Mary was Scottish, or whether she simply enjoyed taking artistic tours of Scotland. A lady in a red dress appears in many of the watercolours, sometimes even sketching, could this be a companion or even a representation of Mary herself?

Apart from one painting dated 1845, there is a gap in Mary’s timeline of 17 years between 1830 and the next batch of paintings covering 1847 to 1863. In that 17 years, was her time spent bringing up a family? Or is there perhaps another collection hidden away somewhere else?

The last year for our paintings is 1863 which is attached to two watercolours of St Andrews. By that time 39 years had elapsed since the first batch in 1824 and by then she would probably have been in her mid to late 50s at least. Mary Webster has left little trace of the detail of her life, but she has left a remarkable record of 19th century Scottish scenes and locations still popular and recognizable today.