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William Widgery (1826-1893)

Biography of Westcountry artist William Widgery (1826-1893)

William Widgery was born in North Molton in Devon in 1826 and, as a young man, trained as a stonemason.

Widgery later moved to Exeter where in his spare time he took-up painting and was completely self-taught, often copying work by Landseer and Bonheur. Thomas Hext spotted Widgery's paintings hanging in an inn and persuaded the artist to give up his job and take up painting as a career.

Many of his paintings were of Dartmoor which he came to love. Widgery set up an Exeter studio and expanded his travels to include the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, Switzerland and Venice. By 1883, it was estimated that he had painted over 3,000 pictures. His work mainly consisted of landscapes using both oil and watercolour and occasional portraits. It has been suggested that in his paintings he used more than a modicum of 'poetic licence'. William Crossing recounts how a passer-by met Widgery painting on the moor and:-

‘.. stopped to look over his shoulder at his work. He could not recognise the view before him as that which the artist was painting. In the foreground instead of a marsh there appeared a rocky stream. 'Mr Widgery', said the visitor mildly, 'there is no river at the foot of that hill.' 'Isn't there?' returned the artist, without looking up; 'well' there ought to be’.

In Crossing's opinion, William Widgery, along with John Syer (1815-1885), were the 'pioneers of Dartmoor painting…'.

In 1881, George Pyecroft wrote of the artist:-

"It is impossible to say that ‘Widgery is of the school of so-and-so’, although at the present time all the young painters are copying him. He has a style quite peculiar to himself, a style in which he catches effects, portrays rural scenes and wild landscapes boldly, and with very little finish...’.

There was an article in The Times dated 14th April 1870, which relates how several of Widgery's paintings were hung in the first class waiting room at Exeter St David's railway station depicting scenes from Chagford and the Teign.

In 1880, Widgery built a house and studio on the edge of Lydford where he lived for 10 years. This building is now The Lydford House Hotel from which can be seen Widgery's Cross on Dartmoor, a granite block cross erected by Widgery to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

In 1861, Widgery had a son named Frederick John Widgery (1861-1942) who went through formal art training and in later years became another famed and prolific Dartmoor artist. William Widgery died in 1893.

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