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Joseph Wilton RA (1722 - 1803)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Joseph Wilton was the first English sculptor to study in the great Academies of Europe and was a Founder Member of the Royal Academy.

Born in London in 1722, Wilton trained abroad in the absence of a tradition of sculpture in Britain. He studied first in France (1744–47) before moving on to Rome, where he produced casts and copies of antique statuary for English and Irish grand tourists. In 1751 he moved to Florence, where he guided grand tourists (including the young architect Robert Adam) through the great collections.

In 1755 Wilton returned to London in the company of future Academicians William Chambers and G. B. Cipriani, and secured his reputation in the late 1750s by beating several illustrious competitors in the competition to make a monument to General Wolfe in Westminster Abbey (finally unveiled in 1773). He was appointed as sculptor in ordinary to George III in 1761 and effectively became sculptor to the empire, designing major works for colonial administrations in Ireland, North America, Canada and the West Indies. Wilton was an early proponent of the neo-classical style, specialising in antique-style portrait busts often showing figures wrapped in togas.

Wilton exhibited with the Society of Artists during the 1760s before defecting to the newly-founded Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. Wilton was a crucial member of the new organisation, so much so that in Jean-François Rigaud’s triple portrait of 1782 Wilton, along with his close friend Chambers and the first President of the RA Sir Joshua Reynolds the three are depicted as the sculpture-architecture-painting triumvirate of British art. He became keeper of the RA in 1790, maintaining that position until his death in 1803. Wilton was a man of considerable means who lived the life of a gentleman and enjoyed entertaining distinguished friends such as Reynolds and Samuel Johnson. In later years he left much of the carving of his works to assistants.

Profile

Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 16 July 1722 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 25 November 1803

Nationality: British

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Keeper from: 1790 - 1803

Librarian: 17 February 1786 - 24 September 1790

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Sculpture

Works by Joseph Wilton in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Joseph Wilton in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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