Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Webb, Archibald Bertram (1887–1944)

by Belinda Carrigan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Archibald Bertram Webb (1887-1944), artist, was born on 4 March 1887 at Kennington, Kent, England, eldest son of Thomas Waters Webb, newspaper reporter, and his wife Emily, née Tutt. Archibald studied under W. P. Robins at St Martin's School of Art, London, and also took night classes at the City and Guilds of London Art School. He was a freelance illustrator and commercial artist in 1905-14 for such periodicals as the Critic, of which his father was editor, the Pall Mall Magazine, Photography and Focus, John Bull and Sketch. On 31 March 1915 he married Ada Olive Barrett at the register office, West Ham, London. Suffering from the effects of rheumatic fever, he was advised that the English climate was detrimental to his health. He and his wife migrated to Western Australia in the Osterley, reaching Fremantle on 11 May 1915.

For two years Webb worked as a commercial artist, and as a teaching assistant at Perth Technical School. In 1917-21 he was employed by the Department of Agriculture as a clerk in the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia, at Narrogin. On his return to Perth he was appointed assistant art master at the technical school, on the recommendation of J. W. R. Linton. Among his students were Hal Missingham, Ivor Hunt, Edith Trethowan and Beatrice Darbyshire.

Webb lived at Nedlands, close to the Swan River, a favourite subject for his prints and watercolours. Reputedly a reserved and rather private man, with a stern and somewhat arrogant mien, he worked largely in isolation. Influenced by English art of the 1880s, he was unimpressed with most modernist developments, which he termed the 'Continental movement'. He adopted variations of the style and techniques used in Japanese woodcuts. His interest in Art Nouveau was also evident in the design of many of his works. While preferring persimmon wood, he experimented with easier-to-find local hardwoods, working on the plank grain. His woodcuts were favourably reviewed in Art in Australia (1924) and the London magazine Studio (1926).

In 1927 and 1930 Webb was commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board to produce posters advertising Australian primary industries, for display in Britain. He helped to teach a course in fine arts (1927-32) at the University of Western Australia, and succeeded Linton as head of the art department at Perth Technical School in 1932. After diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in 1934, he resigned his post and travelled with his wife and family to England in search of a cure. That year fifty-eight of his best watercolours, lithographs and woodcuts were exhibited at the Fine Art Society, London. He produced posters for the Great Western Railway Co. and designed wallpapers for John Line & Sons Ltd.

His health failing to improve, Webb returned to Perth in 1937; he opened an art school, where he continued to teach and show his work until his death. He also exhibited with the Perth Society of Artists. In 1938 his work was included in exhibitions in Sydney, organized by the Australian Academy of Art and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Survived by his wife and their three daughters, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 11 June 1944 in Perth and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery. Examples of his work are held by the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the British Museum, London.

Select Bibliography

  • Westralia Gift Book (Perth, 1916)
  • J. P. Dunne and J. H. MacKell, 'I Will Arise' (Perth, 1980)
  • A. B. Webb, Edith Trethowan and Beatrice Darbyshire, exhibition catalogue (Perth, 1980)
  • Art in Australia, no 8, June 1924
  • Studio (London), 92, Nov 1926
  • Art and Australia, vol 16, no 4, June 1979, p 380
  • West Australian, 1 Oct 1929, 19 Jan 1937, 4 Oct 1977
  • Holmes à Court Collection archives, Perth
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia archives.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Belinda Carrigan, 'Webb, Archibald Bertram (1887–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/webb-archibald-bertram-11987/text21491, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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