William Beechey

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Sir William Beechey
Sir William Beechey, self-portrait, c1800.jpg
Sir William Beechey, self-portrait, ca.1800
Born(1753-12-12)12 December 1753
Died28 January 1839(1839-01-28) (aged 85)
Known forPortrait painting
Spouse(s) Anne

Sir William Beechey RA (12 December 1753 – 28 January 1839) was a leading English portraitist of the golden age of British painting. [1]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


Early Life

Beechey was born at Burford, Oxfordshire, on 12 December 1753, the son of William Beechey, a solicitor, and his wife Hannah Read. Both parents died when he was still quite young, and he and his siblings were brought up by his uncle Samuel, a solicitor who lived in nearby Chipping Norton. [2] The uncle was determined that the young Beechey should likewise follow a career in the law, and at an appropriate age he was entered as a clerk with a conveyancer near Stow-on-the-Wold. But as The Monthly Mirror later recorded in July 1798, he was: "Early foredoomed his [uncle's] soul to cross/ And paint a picture where he should engross." [3]

Burford town and civil parish in West Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire, England

Burford is a small medieval town on the River Windrush in the Cotswold hills in West Oxfordshire district of Oxfordshire, England. It is often referred to as the 'gateway' to the Cotswolds. Burford is located 18 miles (29 km) west of Oxford and 22 miles (35 km) southeast of Cheltenham, about 2 miles (3 km) from the Gloucestershire boundary. The toponym derives from the Old English words burh meaning fortified town or hilltown and ford, the crossing of a river. The 2011 Census recorded the population of Burford parish as 1,410 and Burford Ward as 1,847.

Chipping Norton Market town and civil parish in West Oxfordshire, England

Chipping Norton is a market town and civil parish in the Cotswold Hills in the West Oxfordshire district of Oxfordshire, England, about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Banbury and 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Oxford. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 6,337.

Stow-on-the-Wold town

Stow-on-the-Wold is a market town and civil parish in Gloucestershire, England, on top of an 800 ft hill, at the junction of major roads through the Cotswolds, including the Fosse Way (A429), which is of Roman origin. The town was founded by Norman lords to take advantage of trade on the converging roads. Fairs have been held by royal charter since 1330 and an annual horse fair is still held on the edge of the town. Today's population is about 2000.


Prince Ernest, later King of Hanover (1771-1851), by William Beechey, ca.1797-1802 Prince Ernest, King of Hanover (1771-1851), c.1797-1802.jpg
Prince Ernest, later King of Hanover (1771–1851), by William Beechey, ca.1797–1802

Beechey was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1772, where he is thought to have studied under Johan Zoffany. He first exhibited at the Academy in 1776. His earliest surviving portraits are small-scale full-length and conversation pieces which are reminiscent of Zoffany. In 1782, he moved to Norwich, where he gained several commissions, including a portrait of Sir John Wodehouse and a series of civic portraits for St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich. By 1787, he had returned to London, and in 1789, he exhibited a celebrated portrait of John Douglas, Bishop of Carlisle (now in Lambeth Palace). Beechey’s career during this period is marked by a succession of adept and restrained portraits in the tradition of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Royal Academy of Arts art institution in London, England

The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly in London. It has a unique position as an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects. Its purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, education and debate.

Johan Zoffany German painter and engraver

Johan Joseph Zoffany, RA was a German neoclassical painter, active mainly in England, Italy and India. His works appear in many prominent British collections such as the National Gallery, London, the Tate Gallery and in the Royal Collection, as well as institutions in Europe, India, the United States and Australia. His name is sometimes spelled Zoffani or Zauffelij.

John Wodehouse, 1st Baron Wodehouse British Baron and politician

John Wodehouse, 1st Baron Wodehouse, known as Sir John Wodehouse, 6th Baronet, from 1777 to 1797, was a British landowner, Member of Parliament and peer.

King George III, by William Beechey, 1799-1800 George III.jpg
King George III, by William Beechey, 1799–1800

Beechey’s style perfectly suited the conventional taste of the royal family, and in 1793, he was commissioned to paint a full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte and subsequently named as her official portrait painter. That same year, he was elected as an associate member of the Royal Academy. Following his royal appointment, the number of royal commissions he undertook increased markedly, and in 1797 he exhibited six royal portraits. In 1798, he was elected a full member of the Royal Academy [4] and painted George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops for that year’s academy’s exhibition. This enormous composition depicts King George III, the Prince of Wales and staff officers on horseback at an imagined cavalry review in Hyde Park. The king was reported to be delighted with the painting and rewarded Beechey with a knighthood. [5] Joseph Farington's Diaries give many accounts of Beechey's relations with the royal family during this period, including his temporary fall from favour in 1804, which Farington attributes to the vagiaries of George III’s mental condition.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the wife of King George III. She served as Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until the union of the two kingdoms in 1801, after which she was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1818. She was also the Electress of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire until the promotion of her husband to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814, after which she was also queen consort of Hanover.

<i>George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops</i> oil on canvas painting by William Beechey

George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops was an oil on canvas painting by William Beechey, showing George III and his sons George, Prince of Wales and Frederick, Duke of York at an imagined review in Hyde Park. George rides Adonis, whilst the Prince of Wales wears the uniform of the 10th Light Dragoons, of which he was colonel. Beside Frederick is David Dundas and the painting also shows Philip Goldsworthy and William Fawcett, the 3rd Dragoon Guards' Colonel.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

Beechey's portraits of the turn of the century are considered to be his most colourful and lively. They are closer to the flamboyant and free techniques employed by his younger rivals, John Hoppner and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

John Hoppner British painter

John Hoppner was an English portrait painter, much influenced by Reynolds, who achieved fame as a brilliant colourist.

Thomas Lawrence English portrait painter and the second president of the Royal Academy

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA FRS was a leading English portrait painter and the fourth president of the Royal Academy.

Royal patronage resumed in around 1813, when Beechey was appointed portrait painter to Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, and culminated with his appointment in 1830 as principal portrait painter to King William IV. In 1836, Beechey retired to Hampstead and on 9-11 June that year, the contents of his studio along with his collection were sold at Christie’s.

Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh British Prince

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, was a great-grandson of King George II and nephew and son-in-law of King George III of the United Kingdom.

William IV of the United Kingdom King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover 1830-1837

William IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death in 1837. The third son of George III, William succeeded his elder brother George IV, becoming the last king and penultimate monarch of Britain's House of Hanover.

Hampstead area of north London, England

Hampstead, commonly known as Hampstead Village, is an area of London, England, 4 miles (6.4 km) northwest of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland. It has some of the most expensive housing in the London area. The village of Hampstead has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom.

Although capable of impetuousness and irascibility, Beechey was known for his generosity to students. In particular, he took a close interest in the career of the young John Constable.


During a prolific career spanning half a century, Beechey painted many of the leading figures of his day. His sitters included:

In his 1978 novel Desolation Island, Patrick O'Brian wrote that Capt. Jack Aubrey had been painted by Beechey. The portrait, which showed Aubrey in Royal Navy uniform wearing the insignia of the Order of the Bath, hung in his home, Ashgrove Cottage.


Miss Harriet Beechey, by William Beechey, ca.1800 Miss Harriet Beechey.jpg
Miss Harriet Beechey, by William Beechey, ca.1800

William Beechey's first marriage was to Mary Ann Jones (ca. 1760–1793) in 1772 (other sources say 1778). They had five children:

  1. Emma Amalia Beechey (1784–1859)
  2. Henry William Beechey (1788–4 August 1862) British painter and Egyptologist
  3. Charles Beechey (born 1789)
  4. Caroline Beechey (born 1790)
  5. Harriet Beechey (born 1792)

He secondly married the successful miniature painter Anne Phyllis Jessop (3 August 1764 – 14 December 1833) in 1793 [6] and they had 16 children:

Anne Jessop, Lady Beechey, by William Beechey, ca.1800 Anne Phyllis Beechey nee Jessop.jpg
Anne Jessop, Lady Beechey, by William Beechey, ca.1800
  1. Ann Phyllis Beechey (1794–December 1883)
  2. Frederick William Beechey (17 February 1796 – 29 November 1856), Royal Navy captain, geographer, politician
  3. George Duncan Beechey (1798–6 December 1852), painter
  4. Anna Dodsworth Beechey (born 1800) [7]
  5. William Nelson Beechey (3 August 1801 – 1 August 1878)
  6. Charlotte Earl Beechey (3 August 1801 – 28 November 1849)
  7. Alfred Beechey (born 24 June 1803)
  8. St. Vincent Beechey (7 August 1806 – 19 August 1899), clergyman
  9. Richard Brydges Beechey (17 May 1808 – 14 March 1895), painter and admiral in the British navy
  10. Jane Henrietta Frances Beechey (born 19 December 1809)
  11. Augusta Beechey (born 1812)
  12. Fredericka Anne Beechey (born 1814)
  13. William Ernest Beechey (born 1816)
  14. Frances Beechey (born 1818)
  15. Phyliss Beechey (born 1820)
  16. a daughter S. R. Beechey (born 1822)

Prices at auction

Beechey’s Portrait of James Watt sold for £153,440 at Sotheby’s on 20 March 2003. [8] His Portrait of Mirza Abu'l Hassan Khan, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of King George III sold for £181,600 at Christie’s on 8 June 2006. [9] His Portrait of George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton in the dress of the Royal Company of Archers sold for £481,250 at Christie’s on 5 July 2011. [10] His portrait of The Dashwood Children sold at auction for $821,000 including premium at Christie’s on 29 January 2014. [11]

Beechey’s works are represented in many of the world’s leading collections, including the Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Collection, the Royal Academy of Arts, the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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  1. , Le Louvre, retrieved 25 September 2018
  2. Roberts 1907, p. 3.
  3. "Sir William Beechey RA (1753-1839)". HistoricalPortraits.com. Philip Mould . Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  4. Redgrave & Redgrave 1947, p. 131.
  5. Chisholm 1911.
  6. John Wilson, ‘Beechey, Sir William (1753–1839)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 2 May 2017
  7. Anna Dodsworth Beechey, NPG, Retrieved 2 May 2017
  8. , Christie’s, retrieved 25 September 2018
  9. , Christie’s, retrieved 25 September 2018
  10. , Christie’s, retrieved 25 September 2018
  11. , Christie’s, retrieved 25 September 2018