The text of a 1949 talk about George Weatherill
From: "Family Lindley" <email@example.com>
Subject: [YKS] George WEATHERILL - 1810-1890 - Whitby artist
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2003 09:34:16 +0100
(an attempt has been made to contact the transcriber of this talk)
The text of a 1949 talk on
George Weatherill, the Whitby artist, and printed shortly after the meeting.
George Weatherill - His Family and their Art.
(An address given by the Rev. Malcolm Buchannan, M.A., grandson of George
Weatherill on October 7th, 1949).
When Mr. Browne asked me to give a lecture on my Grandfather
and his art, I was very doubtful whether I was the right person to
do it. I had been brought up to revere and admire him both as an
artist and a man, and cannot claim to be impartial. Nor can I pretend
to such a knowledge of art as would qualify me to be an art critic.
However, I had been grieved to find that, though the earliest portion
of this building was built with money provided by Mr. Pannett in his
will to house the Weatherill pictures and others he possessed, and to
preserve them as a treasure for the town, they were kept locked up
and inaccessible to the public. Hence I was anxious to use the
opportunity of this lecture to help Whitby people to appreciate the
treasure they possess, and to put it to better use, and see that it is
well cared for. My brother, who shares my feelings, encouraged me
to undertake the task, and supplied me with information and with
guidance about the artistic side of the lecture, which he knows far
more about than I do, as he paints himself. Finally, I applied to
Miss Maud Waddington, who was brought up at Whitby, and is
herself an artist and is old enough to have known my Grandfather
and his family when he was still in his prime as an artist; and so is
able to give a far more informed and impartial appreciation of his
art than I could. She very kindly supplied me with a long letter in
which she speaks of my Grand-father and his art just as I should
have wished to speak myself if I could. This removed my last scruples,
and I will proceed to give a brief account of his life and then use this
letter of Miss Waddington's to describe his art.
George Weatherill was born on September 18th, 1810, at a farm
near Staithes, most of his family being farmers. I can find no
particulars of his education, but he must have showed gifts beyond
those required by a farmer, for in his teens he became clerk to a Mr.
Garbutt, a solicitor of Guisborough and afterwards of Yarm. He came
to Whitby in 1830 as clerk to Mr. Henry Belcher. Afterwards he
joined the staff of Messrs. Simpson and Chapman's Bank in Grape
Lane. There he became chief cashier, and for many years lived at
the Bank House next door to Captain Cook's House.
Long before he came to Whitby, however, he had taken up
painting as a hobby for the love of it. Who helped him in his early
efforts I have been unable to learn, and it seems clear that he was
very largely self taught. After he came to Whitby he soon got to
know some of the artists who, even in those days, frequented the
place, and especially, a Mr. Dodgson who may have helped him and
who certainly helped to make him known. But already, when he
arrived at Whitby in 1830 at the age of 19, he was far advanced in
artistic skill I possess and have brought here to-day a picture of the
Abbey with the tower still standing. Now the tower fell in June, 1830,
so the picture must have been painted before that date, when he was
not yet 20 years old, and already it displays a delicacy of touch, a skill
in drawing and a power of expressing tight and shade and cloud effects,
which show that he was already very far from being a beginner.
He had the natural gifts that go to make an artist. First, an
extraordinary love of nature. This was shown by the efforts he had
to make in order to find opportunities for observing, drawing and
painting nature at first hand. Office hours were longer in those days
than now - 9 a.m. till 6 p.m., I believe. So, in summer he would get
up at 5 a.m., or earlier, to go up to the East Cliff to see and paint the
sunrise. When they were old enough, he took his daughters with him,
and though they all became artists afterwards, the youngest at least
found the effort too severe to be enjoyable.
>From his earliest days he was a great walker, and when business
led him to visit other towns he often walked instead of using a coach,
and so enjoyed the country. When still at Yarm, in his late teens,
he had to attend a case at the law court at York. He walked there
from Yarm - 44 miles - on the day before, attended his case next
morning and walked back the same day, I believe arriving late at
night. Later, when he lived at Whitby and had few off-days save
Sundays, though his own deep and simple faith forbade him to neglect
worship, he used to combine worship in church, and the delight of
contemplating God's works in nature, by starting to walk to Scarborough
at 5 a.m., attending church there, and walking back in the
afternoon. He had a friend who used to accompany him on these
expeditions, but used to stop at Scalby, where he was courting a lady.
This friend must have been somewhat absent-minded; for there was a
story that after he had married the lady he once accompanied my
Grandfather and stopped at Scalby as before, went to her parents'
house, and asked if Miss So-and-So was in! Later, when his parents
had moved to Hinderwell, he used to walk there to church and lunch
with them, walking back in the afternoon.
This love for nature and power of observation was helped by
wonderful eyesight and by an extremely delicate touch, which is
evidenced not only by his paintings, especially the smaller ones, but
also by his copper-plate engravings and his Indian-ink drawings,
examples of which are on view on one of the glass cases in the museum.
I have brought some examples of them which show a delicate perfection
of details of drawing, which only a perfect eye and a very sure hand could
have executed. The engraving of the Martyrs' Memorial in the Greyfriars
churchyard at Edinburgh is an example. The inscription on the tombstone
is much of it legible, though few can read it with the naked eye. I used to
be able to read the first lines with a magnifying glass, but even with that
I can do so no longer.
Lastly, besides his study of nature, he was most diligent in
reading all he could get of writers on painting. He even taught
himself Italian so as to be able to read Italian works on art, and he
took every opportunity of studying the pictures of great artists,
especially Turner. His work for the Bank sometimes took him to
London, and he missed no chance of visiting the National Gallery, the
Tate Gallery, the Wallace collection, etc. He also made a large
collection of engravings of Turner's pictures, which my brother and I
have inherited. Probably this study of Turner had more to do with
the development of his style than the influence of any other human
teacher, and he so benefited by his study that Miss Waddington and
other good judges have called him the " Turner of the North."
Before, however, giving you her appreciation of his work, I
must briefly detail the rest of his life-story. He continued his work at
the Bank till about 1860, but, though he never made any efforts to
gain recognition as an artist, the excellence of his work became known,
through the reports of artists and other friends; and people not only
from the neighbourhood but from distant parts of England came
desiring to buy his pictures and pressing him to paint more. As he
was unwilling to disappoint them, and as his work and responsibilities
at the bank increased at the same time, he had a break-down of
health owing to overwork, and about 1860 he had to resign his post at
the Bank, and when his health improved, to rely on his art for a
living. How hard he must have worked was shewn by the fact that
several men were required to take his place in the Bank ; and the
growing appreciation of his art was demonstrated by the fact that
very soon he earned far more by his art alone than he had before earned
by both it and his salary at the Bank, although he never attempted
to make a name or to put up his prices.
I believe that this last period of his life, at least up to the
death of his wife in 1885, was the happiest. He was able to give
his whole time to the art he loved, and I can remember when I was
a small boy seeing him myself seated at his easel, and noticing his
intent and happy expression as he transferred to canvas some vision
of beauty which he had taught out of doors. His eyesight may have
failed a little towards the end, and his later work was perhaps less
finished as regards detail ; but his power of expressing beauty by
delicate blendings of colour, especially in his skies with their renderings
of cloud effects and sunrises and sunsets, remained and perhaps
even increased, to the end. His family, save the youngest, were
grown up when he left the Bank, and all of them shared his interests,
had learnt from him to become artists, and were mostly paying their
own way by the sale of pictures and by taking private pupils in art.
Even my Mother's marriage in 1875 hardly broke the home circle as,
after a short residence at Ormesby, near Middlesbrough, my parents
returned to Whitby and settled there permanently. My Grandfather
passed away on August 30th, 1890, just before his 80th birthday.
I may be permitted to quote a sentence or two from the obituary
notice in the "Whitby Gazette" of that day :-
"Mr. Weatherill had been ailing for some time, and he passed
away peacefully and quietly - just as he had lived." After a few
words about his character, the writer continues : "It was as an artist
that he was more generally known, for no man ever lived to reveal so
tenderly and so artistically the rare natural beauties of Whitby both
as a quaint town and as an ancient seaport. It may be said of Mr.
Weatherill that he loved art for its own sake, and no picture ever
came from his easel but bore clear evidences of conscientious work
and poetic feeling." And later : "What J. M. W. Turner did for
Venice with its vast range of palaces, porticos, and towering columns,
George Weatherill has clone for Whitby with its romantic toast, fine
Abbey, and ancient port. Mr. R.E. Pannett is the happy possessor
of some of Mr. Weatherill's finest drawings, notably a very fine
harbour scene and two beautiful views of the Abbey. In some of the
smaller pictures Mr. Weatherill excels himself, the delicacy of some of
the details being matchless."
I will conclude this attempt to describe and appreciate my
Grandfather's art by quoting almost in full Miss Waddington's letter
in answer to my request for information about his work. She writes
"You could not have asked me to do anything for you which would
give me more pleasure. Only a few weeks ago I suggested to Miss
Cleverly, of Sleights, who writes such charming articles about artists,
that she should write something about the Weatherill family, who
should never be allowed to be forgotten in the annals of the history
of Whitby." She then refers to a booklet she wrote some years ago
in which she speaks of my grandfather as follows:-
"George Weatherill, the northern Turner, made Whitby into
Venice, and rose before dawn to catch the iridescent lights of the
sunrise on her cliffs and water. His pictures are treasures indeed."
The letter continues : " My earliest memory of Mr. Weatherill was of
a most loveable, tall, white-haired gentleman; so humble he would never
hear a word of praise for his lovely work. Once, after I had sold one of his
pictures, he gave me an expensive paint box. Two days after-
wards I found him sketching on the Scaur with a child's shilling colour-
box. When I strongly remonstrated with him, he only smiled and
said, "It's good enough for me; it's good enough for me!" That was
just his whole character. Yes, self-taught, or rather, God-taught ;
for unconsciously beauty poured over him, and his simple, humble
soul was filled with a rare transcendent vision of loveliness which
flowed into all his work."
Then, in answer to my question whether he had any teachers,
and particularly whether Mr. Dodgson had helped him, she says:
I remember Mr. George Dodgson, and how much Mr. Weatherill
admired his work. But I cannot think any artist "helped" him. He
seemed to stand alone in his own artistic atmosphere and sense of
beauty. He never would exhibit, and expressed surprise at anyone
wanting to buy one of his pictures. Mr. Pannett, of course, had many
of his pictures, and thought so highly of them that he left a fortune to
build the Art Gallery that these pictures might find a permanent home,
where they would be treasured in safe keeping for the township of
I can illustrate Miss Waddington's description of my Grand-
father's humility from an incident of my own childhood, which I
remember with shame. I was a small boy of five or six and had been
allowed to come into his studio and watch him paint, and I had the
impudence to criticise one of the details of his picture, declaring that
he was wrong in painting a two-masted vessel with the after-mast
taller than the foremast. The truth, of course, is that the relative
height of the masts varies according to the type of vessel and its rig.
My grandfather listened silently to my silly criticism without the least
sign of annoyance, and it was only when I turned to my Uncle thinking
that he would uphold me, that I received the snub I deserved. This
Uncle Richard told me often that, though his father had not a sailor's
knowledge of the use of each rope and bit of tackle on a ship, he never
got anything wrong in his drawings of ships. That illustrates his
artistic powers of observation and, I imagine, is a thing which could
be said of few artists who are not also sailors.
Miss Waddington's letter concluded with brief references to the
Weatherill family, which I will quote and supplement. She writes
"Your Grandfather's family all inherited his great gift. Your Aunt
Mary did beautiful pencil work, and her foreign cathedrals and markets
were quite exquisite." This Aunt Mary was the oldest of the family.
She developed very quickly, and before she was out of her teens was
selling pictures and giving lessons. She was of a bright and cheerful
disposition and made many friends, and those of her artistic friends
and pupils who were well off frequently invited her to accompany them
on sketching tours on the Continent, especially France and Italy, though
she also visited Germany and Switzerland and Norway. Her
disposition made her delight in bright colours, and she was at her best
in depicting scenes from sunnier climes than ours, where the lights
and colouring are more vivid than here. I was her godson, and have
inherited one of her chief works, an oil picture of St. Mark's, Venice.
Of my mother - the second of the family - Miss Waddington
writes : "I remember a beautiful thing of your Mother's in the
Gallery, and often heard it said that she would have been a great
artist if she had not married." I agree with the first part of this
saying, though, of course, a son cannot be an impartial judge. The
latter part of the statement needs correcting. It was not her marriage
which caused my Mother to relinquish her painting, but a severe break-
down from overwork which took place when she was quite young-
about twenty or twenty-one, I believe. She was so enthusiastically
devoted to her art that she damaged both her health and her eyesight.
She spent some time in London studying and copying pictures at the
National Gallery and elsewhere, and her health suffered and her eye-
sight was so damaged that it began gradually to deteriorate and
continued to do so, so that for some years before her marriage in 1875
she had to paint less and less. She continued to paint a little for some
time after her marriage. I think her last picture was painted in 1894.
In her latter years she became unable even to read.
Of the third daughter, my Aunt Elizabeth, Miss Waddington
makes no mention. However, she also was an artist, and I have some
beautiful pictures of hers. But she was unable to do as much painting
as the others, because she was considerably younger than they ; and
by the time she had grown up my Grandmother was becoming unable
to look after the home and the youngest daughter had to take her
place, the elder ones being already fully engaged in artist's work.
The youngest member of the family was my uncle Richard, born
in 1844. In his young days Whitby was still a busy port-of-call for
sailing ships, specially for the small coasters which carried coal from
the Tyne, or brought timber from the Baltic. Wooden ships continued
to be built at Whitby till 1871, when the last was launched by Messrs.
Smales Brothers. There was thus a demand here for Baltic timber up
to that date. Many ships which had no cargoes to land here used
Whitby as a port-of-refuge in storms or as a place to lay up at in
winter. My uncle was deeply interested in ships and sailors, and
mingled much with the latter and gained a thorough knowledge of ships.
In his early days he wished to go to sea but, as his health was not robust,
and as he inherited his father's gifts, he, too, became an artist and
specialised in marine paintings. Unlike his father, he painted mostly in
oil; but he certainly inherited his father's gifts of colouring and of
reproducing the finest cloud and sea effects. Of him, Miss Waddington
"Your Uncle Dick taught us from early child-hood and grounded us in
and ships." As one thinks of them, and especially of my grandfather, one
calls to mind Rudyard Kipling's description of the joy of artists in Heaven:
"When earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried;
When the oldest colours have faded and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith we shall need it - lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of all good workmen shall put us to work anew.
And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working; and each in his separate star
Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are."
The first lines of this last verse describe exactly the spirit in
which my Grandfather painted even in this life. But I think he would
have demurred to the suggestion in the fast line that artists in Heaven
will still have their partial and individual outlooks. He looked forward
to seeing the Eternal beauty, and to seeing all else truly in that light.
"Now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face,
Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am