Joseph Wilton Design for an Octagonal Marble Plinth Standing on Four Turtles About 1775 - 1785


Born 1722
Died 1803
Nationality English

The eldest son of an entrepreneurial London plasterer and proprietor of an ornamental manufactory, Wilton enjoyed an unusually privileged Continental training as a sculptor. In 1739 he entered the workshop of Laurent Delvaux in Flanders before learning to carve statuary marble in the Paris studio of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. While in Rome Wilton specialized in lucrative commercial copying of antique sculpture and in 1750 became the first British artist to win a gold medal from the Accademia di San Luca. After an interlude in Florence, as portraitist and guide to visiting British Grand Tourists, he returned to London. Building on these patronage connections, he dominated the mid-century market for portrait and monumental sculpture. In 1761, after winning the commission for General Wolfe’s monument in Westminster Abbey, he was appointed sculptor to George III. As one of the Royal Academy’s most influential founder-members in 1768, Wilton frequently collaborated with Robert Adam and with the royal architect Sir William Chambers on decorative sculpture, notably for Somerset House. Throughout the 1770s and 1780s Wilton executed numerous orders for church monuments, facilitated by his prestigious social connections and inherited wealth. Although appointed Keeper of the Royal Academy in 1790, his last years were blighted by financial decline and eventual bankruptcy.