The son of a Paisley carpenter, John Henning initially modelled profiles in wax and then began to produce portrait medallions. During his years in Glasgow his sitters included James Watt. He moved to Edinburgh in 1803 and studied at the Trustees' Academy. In 1811 he went to London where he spent twelve years drawing the Parthenon friezes. With the help of his son, Henning later made large plaster replicas of the friezes to decorate important London buildings to mark the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. He also made small plaster copies of the Raphael cartoons.