Wilton, Joseph (DNB00)

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WILTON, JOSEPH (1722–1803), sculptor and royal academician, born in London on 10 July 1722, was son of a worker in ornamental plaster, who carried on a large manufacture of plaster decorations in the French style at Hedge Lane, Charing Cross, his extensive workshops being in Edward Street, Cavendish Square. Here Wilton was grounded in that skill for decorative sculpture which was the strongest feature of his art in after life. He was, however, first educated at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, for the profession of a civil engineer, but showed an early taste for the sculptor's art. His father therefore placed him under Laurent Delvaux [q. v,], the sculptor, who had returned to his native country, and resided at Nivelles in Brabant. In 1744 Wilton left Delvaux to go and study in the French Academy at Paris under the French sculptor, Jean Baptiste Pigalle. Here he made great progress, gained a silver medal, and learnt to work in marble. In 1747 Wilton went, in company with his fellow-sculptor, Louis François Roubillac [q. v.], to Rome, and three years later gained the gold medal given to sculpture by Benedict XIV on the occasion of his jubilee. He found many patrons in Rome, among the most generous and influential of whom was William Locke [q. v.] of Norbury Park. After visiting Naples, Wilton went to Florence in 1751, where he resided for about four years. He received many commissions for copies from the antique and for completing mutilated statues. In May 1755 he returned to England in company with his lifelong friends Sir William Chambers [q. v.], the eminent architect, and Giovanni Battista Cipriani [q. v.], the decorative painter. He settled in his father's house at Charing Cross, and his talents were soon in great requisition. In 1758, when Charles Lennox, third duke of Richmond and Lennox [q. v.], opened his gallery of painting and sculpture in his house at Whitehall for gratuitous instruction to students, Wilton and Cipriani were chosen by the duke to be directors of the gallery. Wilton was also appointed state-coach carver to the king, and in consequence of his increase of business he erected extensive workshops in what was afterward8 Foley Place, occupying himself a large house at the corner of Portland Street close by. The state coach used by George III at his coronation was constructed from Wilton's designs. Wilton was appointed sculptor to his majesty. He contributed a marble bust to the first exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1760, and in the following year sent busts of Roubillac and Oliver Cromwell. He continued to exhibit busts and bas-reliefs with them up to 1766, in which year ho sent another bust of Oliver Cromwell, 'from the noted cast of his face preserved in the Great Duke's gallery at Florence.' Wilton was one of the original foundation members of the Royal Academy, and contributed to its first exhibition in 1769. Succeeding to a large fortune at the death of his father, Wilton ceased to be dependent on his profession, and was but an occasional exhibitor at the Royal Academy. His work, too, became more and more confined to the modelling alone. He was, however, much sought after for bust and monuments, though by far his best work lay in the chimney pieces and decorative sculpture which he executed, in conjunction with Cipriani, to adorn the architectural creations of Sir William Chambers. Among the eminent persons of whom he modelled busts were Lord-chancellor Bacon, Lord Camden, Admiral Holmes, Sir Isaac Newton, Dean Swift, the Earl of Chesterfield, General Wolfe, and the Earl of Chatham. The much-criticised monument to General Wolfe in Westminster Abbey was designed and modelled by Wilton, and there are other monuments by him in the some building. Wilton was less successful with the statues modelled by him, and two in London—those of George III at the Royal Exchange and of the same king in Berkeley Sqtiare, executed under Wilton's direction—had subsequently to be removed and superseded. After thirty years, as the taste for ornamental and monumental sculpture began to decline, Wilton sold his premises and property by auction in 1786, and retired into private life. He accepted, however, the post of keeper of the Royal Academy, and held it from 1790 until his death, which look place in his apartments as keeper on 25 Nov. 1803. He was buried at Wanstead in Essex. Wilton was a noted and popular figure in artistic and intellectual society, and his large private means enabled to play a leading part in society. Among his personal friends was John Francis Rigaud [q. v.], who executed a fine portrait group of Wilton, Sir W. Chambers, and his Joshua Reynolds, which is now in the National Portrait Gallery. Wilton had an only daughter of great personal charm, who in 1774 married Sir Robert Chambers [q. v.], chief justice of Bengal. A bust of Wilton by Roubillac was presented by Lady Chambers to the Royal Academy.

[Redgrave's Dict, of Artists; Smith's Nollekins and his Times; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy; Gent. Mag. 1803, ii. 1099; Catalogues of the Society of Artists the Royal Aoudemy.]

L. C.