Owen, William English, 1769-1825
English painter. The son of a bookseller, he was educated at the grammar school in Ludlow and was sent to London in 1786 to study under Charles Catton the elder (1728-98), coach painter to George III and founder-member of the Royal Academy. Owen's copy of a work by Reynolds, made soon after his arrival, attracted the latter's attention. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1791 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. From then on he exhibited there every year, apart from 1823 and 1825, and was elected ARA in 1804 and RA in 1806. He painted a number of rural scenes but specialized in portrait painting. Although his reputation was eclipsed by that of Thomas Lawrence, he was sought after by many of the eminent figures of the day, producing portraits of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Howley (1813), and of the politician and essayist John Wilson Croker (exh. 1812; both London, N.P.G.); other of his sitters were William Pitt the younger and John Soane. In 1810 he was appointed portrait painter to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and in 1813 principal portrait painter to the Prince when the latter became Prince Regent. The Prince Regent does not seem to have sat to him but nonetheless he offered Owen a knighthood, which the painter refused. From c. 1820 Owen's health deteriorated until a disease of the spine confined him to his room and finally rendered him incapable of painting. He died after accidentally taking a bottle of opium that had been wrongly labelled. Rachel, Lady Beaumont 1808
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.