Sir Robert Ker Porter was a Scottish artist, author, diplomat and traveller. Known today for his accounts of his travels in Russia, Spain, and Persia, he was one of the earliest panorama painters in Britain, was appointed historical painter to Tsar Alexander I of Russia and served as British consul in Venezuela.
Porter was born in Durham in 1777 as one of five children. He decided that he wanted to become a painter of battle scenes, and in 1790 his mother took him to see Benjamin West, who thought enough of his sketches to procure him admission as a student at the Royal Academy. In 1792 he received a silver palette from the Society of Arts for a drawing entitled The Witch of Endor.
In 1800 he obtained work as a scene-painter at the Lyceum Theatre, and in the same year caused a sensation when his Storming of Seringapatam, a panorama 120 feet (37 m) long, carried round three-quarters of a circle, was exhibited at the Lyceum.
In 1804 Porter was appointed historical painter to Tsar Alexander I of Russia. In St Petersburg he was employed upon some vast historical paintings for the Admiralty Hall. During his residence in the city he won the affections of a Russian princess, Mary, daughter of Prince Theodor von Scherbatoff but complications connected with their courtship necessitated his leaving Russia, whereupon he travelled in Finland and Sweden, and he was knighted by King Gustavus IV in 1806. He then visited several German courts, and in 1807 was created a knight of St Joachim of Würtemberg.
Porter returned to England and was knighted by the Prince Regent in 1813. After returning to England, he soon left again for Russia, but in 1826 he was appointed British consul in Venezuela, a position he held for fifteen years. He continued to paint during this period, his works including several large religious pieces.