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Westall, William (1781–1850)

by T. M. Perry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

William Westall (1781-1850), self-portrait

William Westall (1781-1850), self-portrait

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7692976

William Westall (1781-1850), landscape artist, was born on 12 October 1781 at Hertford, England, the son of Benjamin Westall (1737-1793) and his second wife, Martha Harbord. He was taught to draw by his elder half-brother Richard (1765-1836), a water-colour painter, Royal Academician, and teacher of painting to Princess Victoria.

In 1799 he was admitted to the Royal Academy School, where he was studying when at 19 he was appointed landscape artist with Matthew Flinders' Investigator expedition to Australia, at a salary of 300 guineas. During the voyage he made a large number of pencil-and-wash landscapes in places visited by the Investigator and a series of coast profiles in pencil. When the Porpoise ran aground on Wreck Reef his sketches were 'wetted and partly destroyed' and, while Westall travelled in China, the drawings, regarded as part of the official record of the voyage, were taken by Lieutenant Robert Fowler to England. There, at the suggestion of Sir Joseph Banks, they were handed to Richard Westall to be 'restored to a proper state'. The library of the Royal Commonwealth Society, London, now holds 139 sheets of these drawings.

After spending some time in China and India Westall returned to London in February 1805; sought access to the sketches to paint a picture for exhibition at the Royal Academy and showed a View of the Bay of Pines at the academy later in the year. In the summer of 1805 Westall went to Madeira and twelve months later to Jamaica. After returning to England he painted a series of water-colour views of the places he had visited and these were shown in a Brook Street gallery and at the Associated Artists' exhibition in 1808. Later he received commissions from the Admiralty to paint nine pictures to illustrate Flinders' A Voyage to Terra Australis … (1814), and was engaged by several London publishers to paint water-colours to be reproduced as aquatints. Plates from his pictures illustrate more than forty-five works; perhaps the best known are those in Ackermann's histories of Oxford, Cambridge and English public schools, but his best plates are probably those in A Picturesque Tour of the River Thames (1828).

Though Westall was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1812 and showed seventy pictures at its exhibitions between 1801 and 1849, his work, admirably suited to reproduction, was not highly esteemed and he was never elected an academician. On 2 September 1820 he married Ann (1789-1862), youngest daughter of Richard Sedgwick, vicar of Dent, Yorkshire. He died at St John's Wood, London, on 22 January 1850, and was survived by his wife and two sons, Robert and Rev. W. Westall.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Grant, A Dictionary of British Landscape Painters (Leigh-on-Sea, 1952)
  • B. Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific 1768-1850 (Oxford, 1960)
  • T. M. Perry and D. H. Simpson (eds), Drawings by William Westall (Lond, 1962)
  • R. and T. Rienits, Early Artists of Australia (Syd, 1963)
  • Art Journal, 12 (1850), p 95, 105
  • William Westall papers (State Library of New South Wales and National Archives of the United Kingdom and British Library and Royal Commonwealth Society, London).

Citation details

T. M. Perry, 'Westall, William (1781–1850)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/westall-william-2785/text3967, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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