William Collins R.A. was one of the best known artists of his time and hugely prolific. He showed early artistic promise and was for a time an informal pupil of his father’s friend George Morland. In 1807 he was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and in the same year had two landscape paintings exhibited in the Summer Exhibition. In 1809 he won the Academy silver medal for drawing in the life school and over the next ten years steadily consolidated his artistic position. In 1814 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and a full member in 1820 and, apart from two years in Italy, he exhibited there every year from 1807 until the year before his death in 1847. His patrons included King George IV, the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, four Dukes, numerous other aristocrats, MPs, industrialists and members of the clergy. Despite his contemporary fame, he is now relatively unknown and his pictures are hard to find. Many of those that are in public collections are not on display and some of the finest are either lost or remain, perhaps unrecognised, in private hands
The present portrait is a fine example of his earlier portraiture. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813 it demonstrates his capabilities as a painter and his great attention to detail. The interest in landscape, which was to become his main genre, is demonstrated even in this early portrait composition as the sitter is represented against the parkland gardens of his house. In this instance the background is a genuine one and not a studio prop. When this portrait was commissioned James Campbell was living at Whitton House in Twickenham outside London; the setting is the colonnaded terrace that overlooked the park recently redesigned by Humphrey Repton.
Campbell was a relative of the Dukes of Argyll who had owned Whitton since the early 18th century. A successful businessman he moved in 1818 to the larger Hampton Court House, originally built by the second Earl of Halifax.