The Worlds of Francis Wheatley

Francis Wheatley (1747–1801) inhabited myriad artistic and social worlds: Georgian London and rural Ireland, the high life of his wealthy clients and the marginal world of the theater, the Royal Academy and the print shop. His artistic output was equally broad, encompassing printmaking, portraiture, genre painting, and history painting.

The first section of the exhibition explored The Oliver and Ward Families and The Browne Family, looking at how Wheatley responded to his clients’ needs by portraying middle-class merchants and bankers in the trappings of country gentlemen. His four years in Ireland comprised the second part of the exhibition. During this period of artistic freedom, Wheatley abandoned his focus on studio portraiture and created some of his most important works. Sketching and painting watercolors out-of-doors, he focused his attention on the peasants and rural poor living outside of Dublin, and in the process gathered material that would serve him for the rest of his career. Returning to London in 1783, Wheatley began to create paintings for the reproductive print market and consequently expanded his subject matter to include contemporary events and historical and literary scenes. Wheatley’s depictions of peasant life were tinged with morality and eroticism in equal measure, and they were immensely popular with the print-buying public. His greatest success in the print market was his series The Cries of London, and the exhibition ended with a comprehensive display of those works.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


The Worlds of Francis Wheatley was organized by the Center and highlighted its rich holdings of Wheatley’s work in all genres and media. Featuring Wheatley’s oil paintings, his evocative and delicate watercolors and drawings, and prints after his work, the exhibition was curated by Angus Trumble, Curator of Paintings and Sculpture; and A. Cassandra Albinson, Assistant Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Center. It was organized to complement Sensation and Sensibility: Viewing Gainsborough’s “Cottage Door.”

Top image
The Worlds of Francis Wheatley installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole