William Beechey

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Sir William Beechey
SirWilliamBeechey (cropped).jpg
Self-portrait of Sir William Beechey, c. 1790.
Born (1753-12-12)12 December 1753
Burford, Oxfordshire
Died 28 January 1839(1839-01-28) (aged 85)
Nationality British
Known for Portrait Oil Painting
Spouse(s) Anne

Sir William Beechey RA (12 December 1753 – 28 January 1839) was an English portraitist.


Queen Charlotte (1796; Royal Collection)
George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton
Marcia Fox

Beechey was born at Burford, Oxfordshire, on 12 December 1753, the son of William Beechey and Hannah Read. Both his parents died when he was still quite young, and he and his siblings were brought up by his uncle Samuel.[1] He was interested in painting from an early age, being admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1772, although, according to some accounts, his family intended him to follow his uncle Samuel into a legal career.[2]

In the early part of his painting life Beechey specialised in small-scale full-length portraits.[3] Between 1782 and 1787 he lived in Norwich, and eventually painted four works for the collection of civic portraits hung in St Andrew's Hall in the city, only one was done during his residence there.[4]

Beechey returned to London in 1787. Eventually he came to the notice of the royal family, and in 1793 painted a full-length picture of Queen Charlotte, who appointed him her official portrait painter. In the same year he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.[5] He painted not only the portraits of the royal family, but of nearly all the most famous or fashionable people of the time. In 1798 he painted George III and the Prince of Wales Reviewing Troops, a large composition showing the king and prince surrounded by a brilliant staff on horseback. It obtained for him the honour of knighthood, and his election as a full member of the Royal Academy.[6] The painting was destroyed in the 1992 Windsor Castle fire. Other celebrity sitters included Lord Nelson, John Kemble, and Sarah Siddons.[6]

Samuel Redgrave wrote in 1890:

His portraits were deficient in grace, his draperies poor and ill cast, and he showed no ability to overcome the graceless stiffness which then prevailed in dress. Yet he possessed much merit, and his portraits have maintained a respectable second rank.[7]


William Beechey's first marriage was to Mary Ann Jones (ca. 1760–1793) in 1772 (other sources say 1778). They had five children:

  1. Emma Amalia Beechy (1784–1859)
  2. Henry William Beechey (1788–4 August 1862) British painter and Egyptologist
  3. Charles Beechey (born 1789)
  4. Caroline Beechey (born 1790)
  5. Harriet Beechey (born 1792)

He secondly married the successful miniature painter Anne Phyllis Jessop (3 August 1764–14 December 1833) in 1793[8] and they had 16 children:

  1. Ann Phyllis Beechey (1794–December 1883)
  2. Frederick William Beechey (17 February 1796–29 November 1856), Royal Navy captain, geographer, politician
  3. George Duncan Beechey (1798–6 December 1852), painter
  4. Anna Dodsworth Beechey (born 1800)[9]
  5. William Nelson Beechey (3 August 1801–1 August 1878)
  6. Charlotte Earl Beechey (3 August 1801–28 November 1849)
  7. Alfred Beechey (born 24 June 1803)
  8. St. Vincent Beechey (7 August 1806–19 August 1899), clergyman
  9. Richard Brydges Beechey (17 May 1808–14 March 1895), painter and admiral in the British navy
  10. Jane Henrietta Frances Beechy (born 19 December 1809)
  11. Augusta Beechey (born 1812)
  12. Fredericka Anne Beechey (born 1814)
  13. William Ernest Beechey (born 1816)
  14. Frances Beechey (born 1818)
  15. Phyliss Beechey (born 1820)
  16. a daughter S. R. Beechey (born 1822)


  1. ^ Roberts 1907, p. 3.
  2. ^ Redgrave & Redgrave 1947.
  3. ^ Roberts 1907, p. 10.
  4. ^ Roberts 1907.
  5. ^ Redgrave & Redgrave 1947, p. 131.
  6. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  7. ^ Redgrave & Redgrave 1947, p. 132.
  8. ^ John Wilson, ‘Beechey, Sir William (1753–1839)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 accessed 2 May 2017
  9. ^ Anna Dodsworth Beechey, NPG, Retrieved 2 May 2017


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