Sir William Beechey RA (12 December 1753 – 28 January 1839) was a leading English portraitist during the golden age of British painting.
Beechey was born at Burford, Oxfordshire, on 12 December 1753, the son of William Beechey, a solicitor, and his wife Hannah Read. Both parents died when he was still quite young, and he and his siblings were brought up by his uncle Samuel, a solicitor who lived in nearby Chipping Norton. The uncle was determined that the young Beechey should likewise follow a career in the law, and at an appropriate age he was entered as a clerk with a conveyancer near Stow-on-the-Wold. But as The Monthly Mirror later recorded in July 1798, he was “Early foredoomed his [uncle’s] soul to cross/ And paint a picture where he should engross.”
Beechey was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1772, where he is thought to have studied under Johan Zoffany. He first exhibited at the Academy in 1776. His earliest surviving portraits are small-scale full-length and conversation pieces which are reminiscent of Zoffany. In 1782, he moved to Norwich, where he gained several commissions, including a portrait of Sir John Wodehouse and a series of civic portraits for St. Andrew’s Hall, Norwich. By 1787, he had returned to London, and in 1789, he exhibited a celebrated portrait of John Douglas, Bishop of Carlisle (now in Lambeth Palace). Beechey’s career during this period is marked by a succession of adept and restrained portraits in the tradition of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Although capable of impetuousness and irascibility, Beechey was known for his generosity to students. In particular, he took a close interest in the career of the young John Constable.
The regiment returned to the West Indies in 1795 and helped put down a rebellion in Saint-Domingue in 1796. It moved to Jamaica in 1798 and then with numbers depleted by disease returned to England in 1801. In July 1803 a second battalion was raised. The 1st battalion embarked for India in April 1805 and took part in the closing stages of the Siege of Ryghur in May 1818 and most of the Siege of Asirgarh in March 1819 during the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
Meanwhile, the 2nd battalion embarked for Portugal in November 1810 for service in the Peninsular War and fought at the Battle of Barrosa in March 1811 and the Siege of Tarragona in June 1813 before taking part in operations on the East coast of Spain in the closing stages of the War. The battalions were amalgamated again in May 1817.