LIKE many artists, William Capeling Stevens lived and worked in poverty. His work was exhibited at some of the country’s major galleries - but he died alone, and poor, in his rented Saltaire house.

Now the eccentric artist will be remembered in an exhibition at Bradford Cathedral. It will be the first time his work has gone on public display in almost half a century. Now arts enthusiast Colin Neville, who is putting the exhibition together, is seeking a self-portrait of William.

"I came across a reference to it in a newspaper article from the late 1950s in which William’s younger sister, Annie, referred to a self-portrait she thought was acquired by Mr FI Power ‘of the well-known Bradford family of book-sellers’. This is before my time in Bradford, but I’m sure others in the city may know of them," says Colin.

"The only photo of William I have is a blurred family group taken around 1886. It would be great to show the self-portrait at the Cathedral exhibition. Through the T&A, maybe we can track it down."

William Capeling Stevens had been dead for three weeks when a rent collector found his body in the kitchen of his Albert Terrace home on January 9, 1911. Rumour had it that William had died of starvation.

“At his inquest, a neighbour told the coroner the artist would play his violin until late at night," says Colin. "She said he was ‘a very reserved man and scarcely spoke to or noticed anyone’. His father told the inquest he hadn’t seen his son for three months."

After his death, many of William's paintings, found in his house, were bought by one of his friends, Bertram Heaton. In 1970, Heaton exhibited them at Bradford Central Library and the Telegraph & Argus reported that: ‘Stevens has been unjustly overlooked as an artist. Several of his landscapes have been mistaken for Turners and his excellent portraits reveal his warm humanity’.”

After appealing in the T&A for William's paintings to exhibit, Colin was contacted by Heaton's grandchildren, Jill Collinson and John Lambert, who inherited his collection of the artist's work.

Colin, who runs the Not Just Hockney website, celebrating the work of local artists, started researching William's life after reading about him in an art directory.

“He was a recluse who would fly into a rage if crossed," says Colin. "He was once commissioned to paint a portrait of a Shipley builder, who brought some friends to see the work in progress. When they rummaged through other artwork in his studio, William threw them out and cut the portrait into strips."

William studied at the Saltaire School of Art then the South Kensington School of Art (later the Royal College of Art). His work was exhibited at the New Gallery, London, and Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery, among others, and at a Royal Society of British Artists exhibition.

* Recluse: The Life and Work of William Capeling Stevens, 1870-1911 is at Bradford Cathedral from April 5 to May 6.