Rochester great gran’s quest to find home for childhood sweetheart Joseph Webb’s priceless artwork on show at Sun Pier House, Chatham

Great gran Asha Gascoigne has a dying wish – to celebrate and preserve the work of her childhood sweetheart, an accomplished artist.

Asha, 103, inherited a collection of hundreds of priceless etchings and paintings by Joseph Webb after he died in 1962.

Asha Gascoigne with daughter Jane Furst

For more than four decades they have been languishing in cardboard boxes and are currently crammed in two spare rooms of her terraced property in Rochester.

Now Asha is desperate to find a permanent home for the collection before she passes away.

She fears that unless they are preserved safely in a museum, the condition of the paper work will deteriorate and they risk not being appreciated and admired by future generations.

And while an exact value for his work is not known it is said to run into the hundreds of thousands – or potentially more.

Great grandmother Asha, was betrothed the prints and some paintings in 1975 after Webb’s sister, Hilda said she did not want them.

Joseph Webb with Asha and daughter Jane, aged four on the River Thames
Joseph Webb with Asha and daughter Jane, aged four on the River Thames
Daughter Jane Furst with one of Webb's oil paintings
Daughter Jane Furst with one of Webb’s oil paintings

Her family and Webb’s were close and in the early days they lived near each other in the Ealing area of ​​west London.

Daughter Jane Furst, 77, who is also an artist and a teacher, said: “One day a lorry arrived and they were all packed away in boxes.

His sister had got shot of it all. There were about 10 paintings and up to 400 etchings. It was all in a muddle.”

Some of Webb’s work is held at the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and over the years it has been exhibited in Paris, Chicago and New York.

Jane, who also lives in Rochester, has cataloged the collection since 1985 and has had many dealings with collectors and museums over the years on behalf of her mother.

One of Asha’s most treasured items is a portrait he painted of her when she was 28.

Webb's portrait of Asha Gascoigne in her 20s
Webb’s portrait of Asha Gascoigne in her 20s

The gran, who first met Webb when she was 11 and he was 17 and lodging with her mother, has held on to the picture as a lasting memento to the man she loved.

Her mother Lilian Moll had offered him a roof over his head when he fell out with his father for refusing to go into the family market gardening business because it would “ruin his hands”.

Jane said: “When my grandmother realised they were growing romantically close, my mother was whisked off to South Africa to stay with family.

“She found out about their clandestine meetings. She was not going to allow her daughter marry an impoverished artist.”

It was in Johannesburg she met her husband, James Hibbert and they went on to have four children, two sons and two daughters.

The City of Gold was also where Webb traveled by ship unannounced to visit the married couple, but they never met.

The Magical Mystery Painting by Joseph Web
The Magical Mystery Painting by Joseph Web
Daughter Jane Furst admires Webb's work
Daughter Jane Furst admires Webb’s work

By this time Asha had told her husband that she was still in love with Webb and after nine years they separated.

Apart from Jane, Asha’s children were very sick and on several occasions she returned to the UK for medical treatment of cystic fibrosis – each time meeting up with Webb.

At one point, Webb moved to Arbroath in Scotland where he gained a scholarship in art and met his common-law wife. He also moved to London and lived with an art teacher helping her out in a cafe and here he fathered a child.

But despite this, the two remained close.

Asha now frail and hard-of-hearing, said: “I was under his spell, He said I was his soul mate.

“Our love was like a garden, it withered and thrived…”

“He always said he was going to be recognised. He had self belief and that’s very important.”

“Our love was like a garden, it withered and thrived.”

Jane, the only surviving sibling, added: “It was when my mother came back here that they re-kindle their relationship and they fell in love all over again.”

“She still has about 90 letters from him. My mother is devoted to the belief that Joseph Webb is a great artist. This has led her to guard and preserve the works together.”

In spite of the decline in his reputation during his later years, today Webb’s etchings are among the most sought-after of his generation.

Dan Russell from Chatham arts space Sun Pier House, said: “We have been friends with Jane and Asha for many years now and are extremely proud to have been asked to exhibit the works of the renowned artist, Joseph Webb.

Joseph Webb - self portrait
Joseph Webb – self portrait

“When Jane first spoke of planning the exhibition back in 2019 and her reasons for wanting to put on the show for her mother Asha, we were more than happy to help and provide our gallery space to coincide with The Medway Print Festival.

“Having been told many stories by Jane about Webb, it’s incredible to now see part of this collection in person.

“The attention to detail in his etchings is something that cannot be explained verbally or captured in a photograph, you really must see the works for yourself up close to see all those meticulously crafted hidden little details that cannot be done justice through a photograph, it’s incredible!

“Jane has done a spectacular job at curating the show, going from prints and etchings to drawings and paintings and we are extremely honored to hold host to such a prestigious event giving Jane, Asha, and Webb the recognition that they all deserve.”

Webb took up etching in 1927 when he was 19. He had a love of ancient buildings and scenes of a lost pre-industrial England traveling around the country, including Kent to gain inspiration.

In his paintings and prints, Webb took in religion established from his interest in Easterns, astrology, mysticism and the occult.

Joseph Webb - 1908-1962
Joseph Webb – 1908-1962

He was particularly akin to theosophy, a philosophical movement with ancient, mystical roots, particularly on Buddhism.

By the 1950s he had abandoned print making and painted in an private and eccentric manner. He also stopped exhibiting his material.

He suffered from mental illness and helped run a cafe in London with his common-law wife, an art teacher Ella Hemans, occasionally drawing cartoons and caricatures on menu cards. In 1962, he died in London from cancer.

An exhibition of his work is currently on show at Sun Pier House, Medway Street, Chatham until Saturday June 25.

Jane currently has an exhibition at the Visitor Information Center in Rochester High Street entitled Entangled Realms. It runs until Saturday, July 16.

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