William Westall ARA (12 October 1781 - 22 January 1850) was an English landscape artist best known as one of the first artists to work in Australia. A younger brother of Richard Westall, he was born at Hertford on 12 Oct. 1781. As a boy he lived at Sydenham and Hampstead, and was taught drawing by his brother. At the age of eighteen, while a probationer at the schools of the Royal Academy, he was recommended to the government by the president, Benjamin West, for the appointment of landscape draughtsman to an exploring expedition which was about to start for Australia.
This appointment had just been resigned by William Daniell, who had become engaged to Westall's eldest sister. The Investigator, commanded by Matthew Flinders, sailed from Spithead on 18 July 1801. After a cruise of nearly two years the Investigator was left, as unseaworthy, at Port Jackson, while Westall and most of the ship's company embarked on the Porpoise to return to England. This ship was wrecked on a coral reef off the north-eastern coast of Australia, but no lives were lost, and Westall's sketches were preserved.
After eight weeks the shipwrecked party were rescued by schooners sent from Port Jackson, to which Flinders had made his way in an open boat, and Westall proceeded in the Rolla to China. After spending some months at Canton, where he went on a sketching expedition up the river, he sailed for Bombay, witnessing on his way the engagement in the Straits of Malacca on 15 Feb. 1804, in which Commodore Sir Nathaniel Dance defeated the French squadron commanded by Admiral Linois.
From Bombay Westall visited the Mahratta Mountains, and made careful drawings of the cave-temples of Kurlee and Elephanta, but he declined, to his subsequent regret, an invitation from Sir Arthur Wellesley to accompany the army to Seringapatam. He returned to England early in 1805, but started in the summer on a second voyage to Madeira, where he spent a year of great enjoyment and industry, followed by a few months in Jamaica. On his return to England he set to work to paint pictures from the materials accumulated during these travels, and in 1808 he held an exhibition of his works in Brook Street, Hanover Square, which obtained only a moderate success.
He exhibited ten foreign views in watercolors at the gallery of the Associated Artists in 1808, and fifteen drawings, chiefly of Worcestershire and the Wye, in 1809. He left that society on 27 June 1809, on the ground that he was engaged in executing commissions for oil-paintings. Nevertheless he became an associate of the Old Water-colour Society on 11 June 1810, and a full member on 10 June 1811. He contributed only thirteen drawings in 1811 and 1812 to that society's exhibitions. These were chiefly views in China, New South Wales, and Madeira, but they included also two drawings of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, 1811 (one of these, a large view of the interior, is now in the British Museum), and several sketches of the Thames at London.
Westall prepared for publication the drawings made during the ill-fated voyage of discovery (one of these, 'Port Jackson,' 1804, is now in the South Kensington Museum). Flinders returned to England in 1810, and his book, 'A Voyage to Terra Australis,' with line-engravings after Westall by J. Byrne, S. Middiman, J. Pye, and W. Woolnoth, was published in July 1814. Westall was also employed by the admiralty to make pictures from some of the views, which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812.
In the same year he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and resigned his membership of the Old Watercolour Society. He never became a full academician. The most important of the seventy works which he exhibited at the Royal Academy were the following: 1813, 'A View of St. Paul's from Bankside;' 1814, 'Richmond, Yorkshire,' and 'Scene in a Mandarin's Garden,' a reminiscence of an adventure near Canton; 1817 and 1824, 'Views in the Mahratta Mountains;' 1826, 'View of Lake Wilberforce;' 1827, 'View in the Valley of St. Vincent, Madeira;' 1828, drawings of Elephanta; 1840, 'View of Norwich;' 1848, 'The Commencement of the Deluge.' He also exhibited thirty paintings and drawings at the British Institution, and seven in the Suffolk Street Gallery.
After his final settlement in England Westall was very largely employed in the illustration of topographical works for Ackermann, Rodwell and Martin, and other publishers. In many cases the aquatints or lithographs, as well as the original drawings, were by his own hand. Among these may be mentioned: 1. Aquatints—twelve 'Views of the Caves near Ingleton, Gordale Scar, and Malham Cove in Yorkshire' 1818; 'Views of the Abbeys and Castles in Yorkshire' (four plates by Westall), 1820; 'Views of the Lakes' (twelve plates), 1820; 'Picturesque Tour of the River Thames' (twenty plates by Westall), 1828; 'Views of the Alhambra' (fourteen plates by Westall after T. H. S. Bucknall Estcourt), 1832-3; 'Panorama of Thirlmere,' 1833; 'Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal' (eight plates), 1846. 2. Lithographs—six 'Views of the Lakes,' drawn on zinc; four panoramic views of Edinburgh, 1823; 'Views on the Thames' (thirty-five plates), 1824; 'Views in Egypt and Nubia,' after S. Bossi, 1824; six 'Views of Windsor Castle,' 1831. In addition to these, many drawings by Westall were engraved by other artists for topographical books and as steel-plate illustrations to the annuals.
The titles quoted above tell the story of Westall's life during these years, in which he painted few pictures for exhibition. His home was at Dulwich, but after paying his first visit to the English lakes in 1811 he spent part of every winter till 1820 near Keswick. During these visits he became intimate with Wordsworth, Southey and Sir George Beaumont. At Sedbergh in 1815 he became acquainted with the Sedgwick family, and on 22 Sept. 1820 he married Ann (1789-1862), youngest daughter of Richard Sedgwick (1736-1828), vicar of Dent, Yorkshire (Clark, Life and Letters of Adam Sedgwick, 1890, i. 37; for a portrait of Richard Sedgwick by Westall, see p. 324). After his marriage he took a house in St. John's Wood, where he spent the remainder of his life, with the exception of a residence of seven years in Surrey. In the spring of 1847 he visited Paris. In the autumn of that year he met with a serious accident, in which he broke his arm and sustained internal injuries, from the effects of which he never recovered. He died at Northbank, St. John's Wood, on 22 Jan. 1850. A portrait-bust of Westall was executed by Edward James Physick in 1850.
[Memoir by Robert Westall, son of the Artist, Art Journal, 1850, p. 104; Roget's Hist. of 'Old Watercolour' Society, i. 234, 261-5, 281-4 (an almost complete catalogue of the books illustrated by Westall is given on pp. 283-4).]
Campbell Dodgson, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60. pgs. 348-350.