William Lindsay Windus was born in Liverpool in 1822 (baptised on 15th September 1822) the son of John Windus, a watch case maker, and his wife Agnes who lived at Peter Lane L1 (ran between School Lane and Whitechapel, near the present day Peter’s Lane). In 1825 they lived at 35 Highfield Street L3 (demolished)
Whilst little is known of his early life by the time he was 18 (1841 census) he is being described as a portrait painter. In 1850 he visited London and was greatly influenced by the newly-emerging Pre-Raphaelite school. In 1856 his first work in the Pre-Raphaelite school, Burd Helen (inspired by a folk-song that name), was exhibited at the Royal Academy. This caught the eye of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin which helped to establish him as a respected artist.
In 1858 he married Mary Tongue, who came from Walton-le-Dale, a village near Preston. They had children and lived at 25 Phythian Street L6 (the house is long since demolished but road still exists).
In 1859 he exhibited another painting at the Royal Academy, Too Late, which was linked to a quotation from Tennyson’s poem ‘Come Not When I Am Dead’. The picture was bought by Windus’ patron, a tobacco merchant named John Miller and is now in the possession of the Tate. In the picture (see below) the woman on the left is dying from consumption and a broken heart. Her errant lover has returned, but too late for them to enjoy any time together. The landscape setting of the picture is the view from a fellow artist’s garden at Liscard on the Wirral. The picture drew withering criticism from John Ruskin which greatly discouraged Windus, who was greatly lacking in self-confidence.
In 1862 he suffered a terrible blow when his wife died from cancer. Described as being of melancholic disposition, he soon left Liverpool and withdrew into obscurity. In 1871 he was living in his mother-in-law’s home at Walton-le-dale and he died on 9th October 1907 at Southwark.
In the 1841 census he was living at London Road in the household of Wilfred Jackson, a licensed victualler. In 1851 he was part of his mother’s household at 109 London Road L3.
© Liverpool Footprints