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Francis Wheatley ( 1747 - 1801 )  Category ( Painters ) [suggest a correction]

Francis WheatleyFrancis Wheatley was and eighteenth-century English painter who specialized in portraiture and landscape. He was born a child of the City of London. Indeed he was born in the Covent Garden area. He displayed an early aptitude for art and was enrolled at William Shipley's drawing school. Later he studied at the Royal Academy and was the recipient of prizes for his work. Some of his earlier work included participating in the decoration of Vauxhall, and in painting a ceiling for Lord Melbourne at Broket Hall. His painting entitled, "London Riots of 1780," was so popular that it was engraved and sold thousands of prints.

Wheatley exhibited an artistic temperament from his youth, and was known for outrageous behavior and indulging in popular pleasures of the day, even to the point of dissipation. He was known to gamble and had a reputation as a "fop," or "dandy." A contemporary remarked that Wheatley found it difficult "to live in accordance to his means." When he was still in his twenties he suddenly eloped with the wife of a fellow artist. The couple fled to Ireland to wed and Wheatley set up a studio in Dublin and began to accept commissions for portraits. He became known for portraying middle-class merchants in and amid the trappings of nobility. He was also hired to paint architectural themes, including an interior of the Irish House of Commons. He is also remembered for his work in the Shakespeare Gallery. His specialty was to capture the lushness and dynamism of Shakespeare's plays. He also learned the art of engraving and etching. His most famous works, however, are those of oil and watercolor landscape. His interest in rusticism and the picaresque contributed to the foreshadowing of the Romantic period of art. He married a second time, to Clara Lee, daughter of a proctor and an artist.

Wheatley's wife also was an artist, and painted still life and portraits. By 1790 the Royal Academy had taken notice of his work and he was elected an associate that year. The following year he became a full member. Despite his great success and abilities, and probably due to his determination to live beyond his means, Wheatley endured many personal and financial difficulties. In fact, one of the reasons his wife took up painting was to help support the family, since Wheatley's years of indulgent, excessive behavior had ruined his health. A contemporary reported that his constitution was so weakened from dissipation that he was "at intervals unable to employ his pencil, being much afflicted by long and severe paroxysms of the gout." Wheatley died at age fifty-four, leaving his widow and four children.

Image: Scene from "Twelfth Night "(1771-1772) by Francis Wheatley.

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