Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817) Benjamin West described Julius Caesar Ibbetson as the ‘Berchem of England’. So he acknowledged Ibbetson’s emulation of the seventeenth-century Dutch naturalist tradition. Equally accomplished in oil and watercolour, and as able as a portraitist as a landscapist, he specialised in rural scenes enlivened by the reality of their animal and human figures. The watercolours are particularly valued for their delicate and atmospheric tones.
Julius Caesar Ibbetson was born on 29 December 1759 in Farnley, near Leeds, Yorkshire, apparently by caesarean section. He was probably educated by a local Moravian community and then by Quakers in Leeds.
Encouraged by the talents of his father, a clothier, he was apprenticed to John Fletcher, a painter in Hull, between 1772 and 1777. From 1775, he also painted scenery for the actor-manager, Tate Wilkinson, for his Yorkshire circuit of theatres, and was invited to act in the productions.
On Fletcher’s retirement in 1777, Ibbetson moved to London, where he continued to paint scenery, and worked as a picture restorer for Clarke, a picture dealer in Leicester Fields, who had also been apprenticed to Fletcher. These experiences enabled him to study techniques and obtain a thorough knowledge of the Dutch artists whose influence is apparent in his work. Gradually making a name for himself, notably as a painter of small-scale country scenes, he became one of the leading group of ruralists that included George Morland and James Ward. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1785, and illustrated John Trusler’s moralising tract, Modern Times in the same year.
Having married in about 1780, Ibbetson moved out to Kilburn with his family in 1787. However, he soon left England with Colonel Charles Cathcart in order to act as draughtsman on the first British mission to Beijing. En route, they visited Madeira, the Cape of Good Hope and Java, where Cathcart died, in 1788, an event that forced Ibbetson’s return to Britain (though with many watercolours of animals and plants). From that time, he embarked on a series of native sketching tours, particularly in Wales; instigated by a stay with Viscount Mountstuart at Cardiff Castle (1789), the tours culminated in a visit to North Wales in the company of Robert Fulke Greville and John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1792). In 1790, he also visited the Isle of Wight. In 1793, the Ibbetsons moved to Paddington.
The death of his wife in 1794 and the threat of destitution to his children provoked in Ibbetson a minor nervous breakdown. However, he relieved his condition by accepting a commission from the 2nd Earl of Mansfield to decorate the music room at Kenwood House. He also undertook work as a printmaker and illustrator, contributing to A Picturesque Guide to Bath (1793) and John Church’s A Cabinet of Quadrupeds (1796). Before 1802, he had also contributed images of The Taming of the Shrew to John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.
In 1798, Ibbetson spent time in Liverpool, working for Vernon, the art dealer, and patronised by William Roscoe, the radical writer. From Liverpool, he made his first visits to the Lake District, where he was patronised by Roscoe’s brother-in-law, Daniel Daulby of Rydal Mount; and to Scotland, winning the friendship and patronage of the Countess of Balcarres.
His son, Julius Caesar Ibbetson Yr, followed him to Liverpool and the Lake District, and became a drawing master (and later an innkeeper in Richmond, North Yorkshire).
In 1801, Ibbetson settled in Ambleside and married the daughter of a weaver whom he had instructed in drawing. Moving to nearby Troutbeck in 1803, he published two manuals An Accidence, or Gamut, of Painting in Oil and Watercolours (1803) and Process of Tinted Drawing (1805). However, he left the Lake District for the less damp atmosphere of Masham, Yorkshire, in 1806, in order to alleviate his crippling rheumatism. He died in Masham on 13 October 1817.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection and numerous public collections, including Kenwood, Tate and the V&A; Ferens Art Gallery (Hull), Temple Newsam House (Leeds), Manchester Art Gallery and the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool); The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth) and National Museum Wales (Cardiff); and the Yale Center For British Art (New Haven).