Francis Milner Newton RA (1728 - 1794)
RA Collection: People and Organisations
The English painter Francis Milner Newton spent much of his life campaigning for the establishment of a national academy of art, becoming the first Secretary of the Royal Academy when it was founded in 1768.
Newton was born in London in 1720. He began his artistic studies with the German artist Martin Tuscher, before joining the St. Martin’s Lane Academy. Newton specialised in painting portraits, but his art was treated somewhat dismissively by both his contemporaries and later critics. However, he clearly had a gift for organisation, which afforded him a central role in several early attempts to establish an academy for artists.
In 1753, Newton issued a circular to artists of the St Martin’s Lane Academy alerting them to “a scheme on foot for creating a public academy for the improvement of painting, sculpture and architecture”. The letter requested that each recipient write a list of the eminent artists they wished to put forward as professors in this new academy. However, this venture failed, as did a similar attempt two years later.
A more successful endeavour came in 1759, when a group of artists congregated at the Turk’s Head Pub and formed the Society of Artists, with Francis Milner Newton elected Secretary. Their first exhibition, also Britain’s first exhibition of contemporary art, was held in 1760. In 1765 this group was awarded a royal charter and established itself as the Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain, but issues with infighting beleaguered the society. After protestations from members against the existing directors, Newton was ousted from his position in November 1768. A month later, King George III officially approved the formation of a Royal Academy of Arts. Newton was named a Founder Member and the first Secretary of the RA.
As an artist, Newton exhibited infrequently in the Academy’s annual exhibitions, submitting only eight paintings between 1769 and 1774, all portraits. He played an active and important role in the fledgling Academy, keeping minutes and writing much of the Academy’s correspondence. When the Royal Academy moved to new apartments in Somerset House in 1780, Newton was given living quarters within the building and lived there until his retirement in 1788. He moved to a large estate he had inherited near Taunton and died in 1794.
Born: 10 January 1728 in London, England, United Kingdom
Died: 14 August 1794
Elected RA: 10 December 1768
Secretary: 10 December 1768 - 10 December 1788
Preferred media: Painting
F. M. Newton, Royal Academy, Somerset House [to Dr Hunter, Windmill Street]
29 May 1774
F. M. Newton, Royal Academy, to Dr Hunter
30 Mar 1770
George Keate, Southampton, to [Francis Milner] Newton
13 Oct 
F. M. [Francis Milner Newton], [to the Prime Minister of the King of Denmark]