William Cochran was born in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, and began his artistic training in 1754 at the newly founded Foulis Academy in Glasgow. A promising student, in 1761 the academy sent him to Italy to continue his education. He was in Naples until 1763 and later trained under Gavin Hamilton in Rome, where he painted several historical and mythological pictures. After his return to Glasgow around 1766, he devoted himself entirely to portrait painting. As a painter of both miniatures and large scale oil paintings he built up a successful business. His character and behaviour were that of a modest man, he never exhibited his works and rarely ever signed them. He died aged only 47.