(b Plymouth, 26 Jan. 1786; d London, 22 June 1846). English painter and writer, a mediocre artist but a fascinating personality. Inspired by Reynolds's Discourses, he aimed to bring a new seriousness to British art by producing historical and religious work in the Grand Manner and through them to educate and improve public taste. His life, which was punctuated by bankruptcy, imprisonment, and disputes with patrons, was a story of bombastic frustration and stubborn opposition to the establishment (particularly the Royal Academy), as he fought continuously for personal recognition and argued for the social purpose of art. However, his talents fell far short of his lofty ambitions, his multi-figure compositions degenerating into turgid melodrama.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)