William Williams was an itinerant portrait painter who is recorded working in Manchester, 1763, Norwich 1768-70, York, 1770, Shrewsbury 1780 and Bath 1785-7. He exhibited regularly between 1770 and 1792 at both the Royal Academy and Society of Artists having won a prize for drawing there in 1758. He was known for painting small full length portraits of the gentry and upper middle classes for which he charged one guinea and for “heads large as life three guineas”. Among his sitters was the Marchioness of Buckingham. Clearly he sought out commissions and found that business was to be had by travelling rather than staying in one area for any great time. As such he is also recorded as working in the 1790s across Northern England and Wales.
His work has been much confused over the years with that of his namesake working in Bristol at the same time; an artist whose work is naïve and provincial in style. As can be seen with the portrait presented here Williams creates an engaging and detailed study of a gentleman at ease amongst his natural surroundings rendered with much skill and precision. Known for his naturalistic treatment of landscape this portrait clearly shows the influence of Gainsborough’s work which Williams would have no doubt been familiar with through exhibiting in London.
Judy Egerton of the Tate Gallery, London viewed the painting in recent years and considered it one of the better examples of Williams smaller portrait work, particularly for the landscape setting. A fine large scale pair of portraits of John Jiffard and his wife, from Nerquis Hall, Wales came on the art market in 1984. Other examples of his work can be found in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, and St. Andrew’s Hall, Salop, though others still wait to emerge because of persistent confusion with his lesser namesake.