William Hamilton was born in 1751 in Chelsea, then a separate village, of Scottish parentage. His father had worked with the architect and decorator Robert Adam (1728-1792), with whom William trained before being sent by Adam to study with Antonio Zucchi
(1728-1795) in Italy. Returning to London Hamilton studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1769. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1774 until his death in London on 2nd December 1801, becoming associate in 1784, and a full member in 1789; his exhibits consisted mainly of history paintings and theatrical portraits. From 1778 he was regularly employed by the publisher John Murray, and he also contributed to Thomas Macklin's Poets Gallery and Bible, and to Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery.
Hamilton was a leading figure of what may be called the second generation of British neo-classicism, which had been established in Rome by the joint efforts of the Scot Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798) and the American Benjamin West (1738-1820). Hamilton specialised in subject pictures in a rather more painterly and softened form of the neo-classicism of his precursors, sometimes however showing the influence of Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) with whom he collaborated on illustrations to Gray's 'Poems' published in 1800., Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1802 and 1802), and Thomson's 'Seasons', which had also been the subject of his most famous series of illustrations, those of 1797. In this period it was common practice to prepare for engraved illustrations with large paintings that could be exhibited separately, and Hamilton also painted a large number of independent pictures of literary and historical subjects.
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