Edward Penny RA (1714 - 1791)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Edward Penny was born in Knutsford, Cheshire, the son of a surgeon. He was sent to study painting with the portraitist Thomas Hudson in London and later studied with the religious painter Marco Benefial in Rome before returning to England around 1748.

Penny established a reasonably successful practice as a portraitist, but his most distinctive work infused history painting with the intimacy of Johan Zoffany’s theatrical conversation pieces. These included The Death of General Wolfe (1763, Ashmolean Museum), exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1764, which depicts the subject very differently to Benjamin West’s spectacular painting of 1770. Another painting, An Officer Relieving a Sick Soldier (1764, several versions including one at the Ashmolean Museum), similarly eschews the drama of the battlefield to depict an affecting act of charity. Penny’s subjects also included Jane Shore doing penance in St Paul’s Cathedral (1775–6, Birmingham Museums Trust), and Lord Clive and the Nawab of Bengal (1772, British Library) which was commissioned by the India Office.

Penny exhibited at the Society of Artists in the 1760s, and became vice-president of the society in 1765. In 1768 he resigned from the Society of Artists to become a Founder Member of the nascent Royal Academy of Arts Penny was the RA’s first Professor of Painting, and the lectures he delivered in this capacity were praised by Penny’s successor as Professor of Painting James Barry. With G.B. Cipriani he also designed the gold medals awarded annually to the best students at the RA Schools, which bore the motto ‘haud facilem esse viam voluit’ (‘He does not want the path to be easy’).

Penny exhibited at the RA almost every year until 1782, by which time ill-health had caused him to resign his professorship. He died in Chiswick in 1791.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 1 August 1714 in Knutsford, Cheshire, England, United Kingdom

Died: 16 November 1791

Nationality: British

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Professor of Painting: 1768 - 1782

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Edward Penny in the RA Collection

5 results

Works after Edward Penny in the RA Collection

2 results

Associated books

1 results

Associated archives

12 results