heatley, R.A. Francis
(London 1747 - London 1801)
The son of a tailor, Wheatley was born in Covent Garden in 1747 and was trained at William Shipley’s drawing school, as well as at the newly established Royal Academy Schools. He won several prizes from the Society of Artists during the early phase of his career. His early work consists mainly of portraits and conversation pieces, which recall the manner of Johan Zoffany (1733-1810) and Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788), under whom Wheatley may have studied. John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779), his friend and collaborator, also seems to have influenced his work, particularly in the rendering of fabrics.
In his youth Wheatley suffered financial difficulties due to a gambling addiction and a love of the extravagant lifestyle of London high society. In 1779, with the help of a loan from Benjamin West (1738-1820), he eloped to Dublin with the wife of J. A. Gresse (1740-1794), another artist. For four years Wheatley worked predominantly as a portrait painter, although he did complete a number of large-scale paintings depicting contemporary events. On his return however, he began to produce the sentimental genre scenes, inspired by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) for which he is best known. Wheatley worked for the print publisher John Boydell. It was illustrations for novels and various genre subjects that formed Wheatley’s lasting reputation, Cries of London being undoubtedly his most celebrated work.
Wheatley was elected as a Royal Academician in 1791, but his last years were plagued by gout and continuing debt. He died in 1801.