Wilson, John (1774-1855) (DNB00)

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WILSON, JOHN (1774–1855), sea-painter, son of James Wilson, shipmaster, and Eleonora Masterton, his wife, was born at Ayr on 20 Aug. 1774 (Ayr Parish Register). When thirteen years of age he was apprenticed to John Norie of Edinburgh, who, although by business a house-painter, not infrequently executed landscape panels of some merit in the rooms he decorated. On the completion of his apprenticeship, which was not without influence upon his future, he had some lessons in picture-painting from Alexander Nasmyth [q. v.], and then practised as a drawing-master in Montrose for two years, at the end of which he went to London. There he soon found employment as a scene-painter at Astley's Theatre in Lambeth Road, and his scenery is said to have been good. His name appears for the first time in the Royal Academy catalogue of 1807, but, although he exhibited a good many pictures there, his principal works were sent to the British Institution and the Society of British Artists. In 1826 he was awarded a 100l. premium for a picture of the battle of Trafalgar (purchased by Lord Northwick), painted in competition for a prize offered by the directors of the former society, and in the formation of the latter in 1823–4 he took a leading part. He was also elected an honorary member of the [Royal] Scottish Academy in 1827, and contributed regularly to its exhibitions. His later years were spent at Folkestone, where he found congenial subjects for his pictures, which usually represent coast scenery and the sea with shipping. His work is fresh and vigorous, and, if somewhat lacking in delicacy, pictorial in motive and arrangement, while it is marked by much truth of observation and directness of expression. He was a prolific painter, and between 1807 and 1856 showed 525 pictures at the three London exhibitions already named. There are two pictures by him in the National Gallery of Scotland and one at South Kensington Museum. On 20 April 1855 he died at Folkestone. Wilson, who was familiarly known as ‘Old Jock,’ was of a sociable disposition, a keen observer, a brilliant conversationist, and his stories of Robert Burns [q. v.] and other famous men he had met were in great request among those who knew him.

In 1810 he married a Miss Williams, and their son, John W. Wilson, who died in 1875, followed his father's profession, choosing landscape and farmyard subjects with figures.

[Gibson's View of the Arts of Design, 1816; Redgraves' Century of Painters, 1865; Redgrave's, Bryan's, and Graves's Dictionaries; Armstrong's Scottish Painters, 1888; Brydall's Art in Scotland, 1889; Catalogue of National Gallery of Scotland.]

J. L. C.