When I found out Buxton Museum and Art Gallery had acquired a large collection of Clifford Webb’s work, I was thrilled. Being from a textile design background, I was familiar with his work but could not contemplate how impressive his lino and woodcuts were until I saw them up close.
Clifford Webb was a profound artist and illustrator. Born on 14th March in London in 1894, Clifford Webb grew up in the heart of the London Docks. He was the youngest of four children and his background was very much working class. Coming from a poorer background, options as an artist were very limiting but at sixteen years of age, he earned a place as a Lithographers apprentice. This gave him the foundations to develop his printmaking and illustration ideas. A few years later, war was declared and Clifford Webb enlisted in the British Army and as a Calvary Officer, would face a harrowing journey through The Western Front, Gallipoli and the Mesopotamian campaign in Iraq before being posted to India. With several wounds and sepsis he collapsed and was discharged and he returned back to England.
Following the war, Webb proceeded to develop his printmaking techniques alongside teaching and book illustration. He reinvigorated woodblock printing before later moving to colour and experimenting with other printing methods. He was to become to be recognised as one of an elite group of British wood engravers and woodblock artist of that time. Webb moved away from traditional methods and ideas of wood engraving and experimented with a variety of new ideas. He made his prints larger than his contemporaries (other printers at that time were working on smaller wooden blocks). He cleverly stylised images by creating exaggerated curves and geometry without detracting from the realism and character of his subject matter. This made his work stand out! Another distinguishing characteristic of Clifford Webb’s work was his use of tall formats; this can be seen in his work ‘Hill Farm’. He cleverly uses every inch of space to show the vast landscape of hills next to the turbulent sky.
In a quote from Simon Brett’s book ‘The Life and Work of Clifford Webb’ Brett writes “he re-thought how things could be depicted on an engraved surface. He broke boundaries!” I think this sums up Clifford Webb’s revolutionary approach to printing.
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery now have 54 of Clifford Webb’s prints which came into our possession through ‘The Schools Library Service’ after it dissolved in 2018. The Schools Library Service was set up in the 1930’s for the purpose of lending museum objects and artworks to schools across Derbyshire. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery were lucky enough to receive over 3000 objects including 1,300 paintings, 54 of these were by Clifford Webb. Of course we wanted to keep them all but sometimes it’s just not that that simple. We began an investigation into how the ‘Derbyshire Schools Library Service’ came to have so many of his works. The information we gathered was key to building a good case to keep all of Clifford Webb’s work. It is still a bit of a mystery but we are to believe Mr Webb donated these works to the service and we are now able to enjoy his generosity today. The fact that Clifford Webb had such an affinity with teaching and the passion he had for illustrating children’s books may be why he donated such a large proportion of his work to the Schools Library Service. I am thrilled to announce that after talks with Clifford Webb’s family, Simon Brett (author of the fabulous book The Life and Work of Clifford Webb) and the huge appreciation of his work by the public visiting our current exhibition, we put forward a strong case and are able to keep all of his work. We are hoping to curate another exhibition showing all of the 54 artworks in our collection in the not so distant future. To find out more and to see Clifford Webb’s work in our 2 exhibitions, ‘Between 2 Worlds’ and ‘Clifford Webb’ pop into Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
Watch this space printmaking lovers….
If you are interested in reading more about Clifford Webb’s journey, it is well documented in the book ‘The Life and Work of Clifford Webb’ by Simon Brett.
and Tim and Stewart Webb, grandsons of Clifford Webb have created a facebook page