WESLEY ELBRIDGE WEBBERAmerican, 1841-1914
Marine, landscape and historical painter, Wesley Elbridge Webber was born in Gardiner, Maine, in 1841. Considered self-taught, Webber began his career after a move to Boston, Massachusetts, where he apprenticed himself to J. C. Roberts, a successful sign and carriage painter from 1858 to 1861. He then opened and maintained his own fine art studio in Boston, with annual painting excursions to the Conway area of New Hampshire until a move to New York City in 1892.
His time in New Hampshire brought him into a close circle of artists, including J. J. Enneking (1841-1916) and Frank Shapleigh (1842-1906), who helped Webber shape a personal style of a sophisticated realism as the group explored the lush, mountainous hills and valleys of this scenic part of New Hampshire. During this period Webber exhibited widely with exhibitions at the Boston Art Club, the National Academy of Design, the Brooklyn Academy, the Peabody Museum in Salem, and the Portland Museum, Maine.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Webber volunteered to serve in Company B of the Sixteenth Maine Volunteer Regiment present at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. As the only artist present on the Northern side of the conflict, Webber dashed off a number of detailed sketches which were later reproduced as lithographs and later wood engraving in Harper’s Weekly, the most popular periodical in America at the time of the Civil War. J. H. Bufford, of Boston, also printed a large and very popular lithograph of the surrender that made Webber a celebrity overnight. A large group of his original drawings together with lithographs, wood cuts and paintings were exhibited at the Boston Art Club, confirming Webber’s unique role as the artist who captured Lee’s surrender and the end of the War between the States. On June 15, 1865, Webber was discharged from the Army. He immediately opened a new studio in Gardiner, Maine.
Additionally, Webber shared a Boston studio with marine painter William P. Stubbs and later kept a New York City studio, located at 11 East 14th Street, quickly became a meeting spot for several hard-drinking realist painters working in New York after the turn of the century. In 1914, Webber, suffering from the effects of alcoholism, left the city for Wollaston, Maine, and the home of his only daughter where he died that same year. The contents of his studio numbering over 140 finished paintings were sold at auction in 1915 in Boston by C. F. Libbie and Company.
Webber’s paintings are now included in most large regional American museums including the Boston Athenaeum, the Peabody Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Portland Museum, Maine.