Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hobday, William Armfield

HOBDAY, WILLIAM ARMFIELD (1771–1831), portrait-painter, was born in 1771 at Birmingham, where his father was a manufacturer. Showing a capacity for drawing, he was sent to London when still a boy, and articled to an engraver named Barney, with whom he remained six years, studying at the same time in the Royal Academy schools. He then established himself in Charles Street, near the Middlesex Hospital, as a painter of miniatures and watercolour portraits, and commenced to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1794. He was fortunate in soon securing a fashionable clientele, married, and in 1800 removed to Holles Street, Cavendish Square, where, supported largely by his father, he lived for a short time in a recklessly expensive style.

In 1804 he left London for Bristol , where for some years he was largely employed in painting the portraits of officers embarking for the seat of war in the Peninsula. Though Hobhouse he thus earned large sums, he continued to be extravagant and in difficulties. In 1817, after the close of the war, Hobday returned to the metropolis, and took a large house in Broad Street, City, hoping to renew his earlier artistic and social connections; but in this he was disappointed, though patronised by Baron Rothschild, for whom he painted a family group at the price of a thousand guineas. In 1821 he removed to 54 Pall Mall, which had large galleries attached to it; and after a disastrous speculation in a panoramic exhibition, called the 'Poecilorama,' at the Egyptian Hall, he opened these galleries for the sale of pictures on commission. Though supported by all the leading English and many French artists, the venture proved a complete failure, and in 1820 Hobday became a bankrupt. He died 17 Feb. 1831, having lost his wife two years previously. Throughout his chequered career he was a constant exhibitor at the Royal Academy, frequently contributing during his residence at Bristol.

In 1819 he sent a portrait of the Duke of Sussex; his best work was a picture of Carolus the hermit of Tong. His portrait of Miss Biggs in the charahter of Cora, and that of Richard Reynolds, the Bristol philanthropist, have been engraved, the latter by W. Sharp. He was always well patronised, and obtained good prices for his works, but the quality of his art suffered greatly from his restless and improvident habits.

[A long memoir of Hobday will be found in Arnold's Library of the Fine Arts, ii. 384; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Graves's Dict. of Artists, 1760-1880: Royal Academy Catalogues.]

F. M. O'D.