The paintings by John Chubb which we display at Blake Museum are crucial to visitors’ understanding
of Bridgwater in the late 18th century. We have documents and tombstones that give us names of
Bridgwater people, but only Chubb’s portraits tell us what they actually looked like.
The way in which John Chubb portrayed the people around him really brings the town to life. He
painted for his own
enjoyment, not for commercial gain, so he depicted whatever subjects he wanted to. Also he painted
local characters who would not have been able to afford an artist to paint their portrait. The pictures
have many uses in Blake Museum, and their acquisition is a big gain in telling our visitors about the
history of Bridgwater.
John Chubb was born in 1746, the son of Jonathan Chubb, a Bridgwater timber and wine merchant. John wanted to
become a professional artist, but his father did not approve of the idea, and eventually he carried on the family
business. John took an active part in town politics, and was Mayor of Bridgwater in 1788. Later in his life he was active
in the local campaign to abolish the Slave Trade.
While his father ran the family business, John Chubb had plenty of spare time to spend on drawing and writing poetry,
not to earn a living but for his own amusement. He painted not only local scenery, which makes an important record of
what Bridgwater and its surroundings looked like in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but also lots of portraits of
his family, local businessmen, doctors, clergy, local Members of Parliament and suchlike. Many of his portraits relate
to working tradesmen and craftsmen working with their tools. Some of his writings contain witty pen portraits of local
figures – and as he was not being paid for the work he did not have to flatter them!
As a teenager, John visited relations in London and more than 50 letters between him and his family at
this time are in the collection. The collection includes correspondence from a leading politician of the
time, Charles James Fox, and a letter from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written at Nether Stowey
in 1797 – at the time when Coleridge was writing one of his most famous poems “The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner”, as well as Chubb’s own comments on local politicians in verse. There are account and
memorandum books, showing the Chubb family’s activities in a busy merchant town. There are also
personal letters written by the Chubb's shedding light on their lives in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Three hundred and sixty sketches and finished drawings and a number of documents were kept
together by his daughter after his death in 1818, and, most unusually, were kept together by the Chubb
family ever since. The collection was mostly made between 1761 and around 1800 although there are
also some letters written by his Somerset ancestors going as far back as the 1650s.
For over 30 years, sixty of the pictures had been on loan from John Chubb’s descendants to the Blake
Museum. At the end of 2002, the family decided to sell the entire collection and offered it in the first
instance to Blake Museum. Thanks to local support and help from a number of national grantgiving
bodies, in 2004 Blake Museum reached its appeal target of £123,000 to save over 300 unique historic
original watercolour paintings and documents with an important link to Bridgwater’s history.
Heritage Lottery Fund contributed £88,000 in the light of local contributions from Sedgemoor District
Council, the Friends of Blake Museum and other local organisations and individuals, which amounted to
about £9,700. Other national organisations that contributed were the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund
(£15,000), and the National Art Collections Fund (£10,00).
Copyright © Bridgwater Blake Museum 2023
From Stone Age to Modern Age, there’s something for everyone.
Chubb Topography may be found here
List of Chubb Portraits may be found here
Some examples of Chubb’s work.
Video is of 6.45 mins duration
5 Blake Street
Tel: 01278 456127
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