William Westall and the Lake Country

Article excerpt

In 1820, a volume of beautiful aquatint Views of the Lake and of the Vale, of Keswick wan published, with an introduction by Southey. The artist, William Westall, had been Southey's friend for several years; he was also a favourite of the Wordsworth circle at Rydal for his illustrations of Lakeland scenery, which, along with the watercolours of Constable and Turner, and the aquatints of William Green, represented the region in new, Romantic, terms.

Who was William Westall and how did he come to be the friend and trusted artist of Southey and Wordsworth? He was born in Hertford on October 12, 1781, the son of Benjamin Westall and his second wife. In 1794, Benjamin died and William's half-brother Richard, who was sixteen years older, became his de. facto father (see ODNB www.westallart.blogspot.co.uk). Richard Westall, who became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1792, and a Royal Academician in 1794, found fame in the fashionable art world. William showed early artistic promise and, recognising this talent, Richard taught him before he entered the Royal Academy as a probationer in 1799.

The following year William was offered the position of landscape artist for a voyage to Australia on the recommendation of the President of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West. The voyage, under the captaincy of Matthew Finders, completed the first known circumnavigation of Australia and William executed some eighty drawings of the country and its peoples. In 1803, on the way home, William associated with an employee of Sir Joseph Banks, David Lance, while visiting China and stayed a few months whilst busily sketching. Then with the help of the East India Company, William travelled on to India. He returned to Britain in 1805; in 1810 and 1812, his oil paintings based on his Australian sketches were displayed at the Royal Academy where they "attracted great attention" (Westall, Robert 104-5). William was then elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In 1814, Flinders' account of the expedition, A Voyage to Terra Australis, was published, including nine engravings after William's drawings and twenty-eight of his coastal views in the accompanying atlas (Westall, Richard J. 449). William was now established as an up and coming topographical artist.

According to his son Robert, it was in 1811, that William "paid his first visit to the Lake country ... and was so much charmed with the beauty of the Northern scenery that he resided at Keswick or the neighbourhood during part of every winter until 1820 and afterwards frequently visited it" (Westall, Robert 104-5). It may have been through Sir George and Lady Beaumont, keen amateur artists and patrons of art, who were great admirers of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, that Westall gained his introduction to the Lake poets. During the winters of 1813 and 1814, he visited the Beaumonts at their Coleorton estate in Leicestershire. In summer 1816, he was in the Lakes with the Beaumonts: Southey writing "[t]he Beaumonts are here, and Rogers is here,--and the Lord knows whose family are coming. Here is Glover in town; and the younger Westall" (Southey 1856, 3: 33). Henry Crabb Robinson noted the visit in his diary in September 1816: "We spent an agreeable evening with Southey, Mr Nash, Mr Westall Jun, several ladies, Miss Barker, Mrs Southey, Mrs Coleridge, and Mrs Lovell, were of the party" (Crabb Robinson 2: 21). In April, 1817, Joseph Farington reported that "Wm Westall told me that he passed the whole of last summer at the Lakes, & had now an apartment at Grassmere, and it was his intention to reside at Keswick" (Farington 14: 4999).

Westall's northern summer was fruitful for his art. In 1818, twelve of his engravings after his own designs were published by John Murray as Views of the Caves Near Ingleton in Yorkshire (Westall, Richard J., 1986: 449). The book was well received in the Wordsworth household: Mary Wordsworth wrote to her sister Sara Hutchinson in December, 1818, about the "Yorkshire Caves by Westall" (Wordsworth, Mary 41). …