Wheatley, Francis (DNB00)

WHEATLEY, FRANCIS (1747–1801), painter, born in 1747 in Wild Court, Covent Garden, was son of a master-tailor. He early displayed a talent for art, and studied at William Shipley's drawing-school, and from 1769 in the schools of the Royal Academy. His progress was marked by the receipt of several premiums from the Society of Arts. In his younger days he was associated much with John Hamilton Mortimer [q. v.], whose works he frequently copied, and whom he assisted in decorative paintings at Brocket Hall and elsewhere. He was also employed on the decorations at Vauxhall. As early as 1765, in his eighteenth year, he appears as an exhibitor with the Incorporated Society of Artists, sending a small portrait. He was a director of that society in 1772, and contributed small portraits and landscapes. Wheatley was a man of elegant habits and agreeable company, who formed many acquaintances in theatrical and polite society. This led him into extravagant habits and plunged him into debt. Having had an intrigue with the wife of a popular artist, John Alexander Gresse [q. v.], he eloped with her to Dublin. There Wheatley resided for a few years, and was much patronised by the leaders of fashion. He painted some of his most important pictures in Dublin, such as ‘The Interior of the Irish House of Commons,’ with Grattan addressing the house; ‘The Collecting of the Irish Volunteers in College-Green, 1779,’ containing numerous portraits, and ‘Review of Troops in the Phœnix Park, by General Sir John Irwin, K.B.’ (painted in 1781, and exhibited at the Society of Artists in London in 1783); both the latter pictures are in the National Gallery at Dublin. Wheatley's small portraits, especially those of military officers, are bright and pleasing in colour. Through the discovery of the irregularity in his domestic life, Wheatley was forced to leave Dublin and return to London, where he resumed his place as a painter of small popular portraits, landscapes, and scenes from daily or peasant life. He set himself deliberately to imitate the French painter, Greuze. His works show no strength, though they are neatly and prettily finished, with much taste and sentiment in the drawing. They lent themselves, however, remarkably well to the elegant and sugary style of stipple-engraving then in vogue, and many of his works, thus translated, especially if printed in colours, such as ‘The Cries of London,’ are highly valued by amateurs at the present day. Wheatley first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778, and after his return from Ireland became a regular exhibitor there from 1784 to the year of his death. He was elected an associate in 1790, and a Royal Academician in the following year. Throughout his life Wheatley was afflicted with gout, due to the irregularities of his life, which at last obtained such a mastery over him that he was compelled to become a pensioner of the Royal Academy. He was employed to paint pictures for Boydell's ‘Shakespeare Gallery,’ Macklin's ‘Poets' Gallery,’ and Bowyer's ‘Historical Gallery.’ One of his best pictures, ‘The Gordon Riots in 1780,’ was finely engraved by James Heath (1757–1834) [q. v.], but was accidentally destroyed by fire in his house. His portraits were often inserted in landscape with a pleasing effect, and one of ‘The Second Duke of Newcastle and a Shooting Party’ gained him much repute. Wheatley subsequently married Clara Maria Leigh, by whom he had several children [see Pope, Clara Maria]. Mrs. Wheatley was a handsome woman, whose portrait was introduced by her husband into some of his scenes from rustic or daily life. Wheatley died on 28 June 1801. A portrait of Wheatley, drawn by George Dance the younger [q. v.], is in the library of the Royal Academy.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Edwards's Anecdotes of Artists; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy; Gent. Mag. 1801, ii. 765, 857; Cat. of the Royal Academy, Society of Artists, and National Gallery of Ireland.]

L. C.