William Joseph Bond developed from an early Pre-Raphaelitism to a more bravura handling that absorbed the influence of J M W Turner and many of his own Liverpool contemporaries. Inspired by the sketching tours that he made across England and Wales, he tended to produce luminous small oils of coastal scenes enlivened by small fishing boats. His decision to add ‘Julius Caesar’ to his name led to his distinctive signature, with its many initials, which in turn gave rise to the nickname, ‘Alphabet Bond’. William Joseph Bond was born in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, on 22 August 1833, the son of William Bond, who kept a private school, and his wife, Susannah. He received his early education at home, and was then sent for a few years to Stonyhurst, the Jesuit college in the Ribble Valley. When his father gave up his school, he was apprenticed to Thomas Griffiths, a miniature painter, picture dealer and restorer, in Liverpool, ‘to learn the whole trade and business of a picture restorer and cleaner’.
Once he began ‘to sketch a little out of doors’, his resulting work was seen by the Scottish Liverpool based tobacco merchant and collector, John Miller, who ‘advised me to follow it up entirely and I have done so ever since’. (These reminiscences, written by Bond in 1883, are taken from Mary Bennett (ed), Merseyside Painters, People & Places: Catalogue of Oil Paintings, Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery, 1978, vol 1, page 43.)
Coming under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites during the 1850s, Bond began to exhibit at the Liverpool Academy, and was elected an associate in 1856, and a full member in 1859. He also contributed to exhibitions in London, at the Society of British Artists (from 1857) and, more occasionally, at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, though his work was bought mainly by northern patrons. It seems that he chose to add ‘Julius Caesar’ to his name, which led to his distinctive signature with its many initials and, in turn, gave rise to his nickname, ‘Alphabet Bond’.
By 1860, Bond had left Liverpool, and was living in Caernarvonshire. On 12 July that year, he married Jane Douglas Ellis, a local girl who was the daughter of Owen Ellis, an iron monger. Settling first at Bryn Dern, Llanberis, all three had moved together to Liverpool by 1864. Through the remainder of the decade, they lived at addresses in the areas of Lime Street and St Anne Street, including, latterly, 65 West Derby Street. Still residing there at the time of the 1871 census, the Bond family had grown to include three children: Margaret (9), William (7) and Eliza (3).
As his career developed, Bond became increasingly influenced by the work of J M W Turner, and applied his fresh, loose handling to seascapes as well as landscapes. He made a number of sketching tours to parts of England and Wales, travelling as far as Cornwall and Norfolk, and also visiting the Low Countries on at least one occasion before the mid 1870s.
In his Memories of Life and Art through Sixty Years (London: John Lane, 1925), the writer on art, Walter Shaw Sparrow, remembered the visits that Bond made to his family home, Gwersyllt, Denbighshire, during the late 1870s, when he painted several oils of the house and garden. He described him as ‘one of those calm, delicate-looking men who are very quiet, often very shy, and generally very tenacious’ (page 61). Sparrow learned much about technique from Bond, and was qualified not only to reminisce about his character, but also to assess his achievement. So he wrote that ‘Bond understood the methods developed by all the Liverpool painters. Now and then he worked for practice in the styles of [William] Huggins, [J W] Oakes, [Robert] Tonge and [William] Davis, just as a musician, turning from original compositions, plays the work of other men’ (page 69). Bond was a friend to these men and, occasionally, a collaborator, working for instance with Huggins on Donkey and Foal (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).
Another writer on art, Henry Currie Marillier, described him as ‘the essence of sympathetic good-nature, popular with children, full of humour, and a keen but quiet judge of character in others’ (The Liverpool School of Painters, London: J Murray, 1904 page 77).
Still painting and sailing into his late seventies, Bond lived at addresses in Massey Park, Wallasey, on the Wirral, Cheshire, where he was looked after by his elder, unmarried daughter, Margaret. He died in Freshfield, Formby, to the north of Liverpool, on 29 March 1926, at the age of 92.
He is represented in numerous public collections, including the Walker Art Gallery and the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum; and Bangor University.