William Payne, AOWS (1760-1830) William Payne was probably the most fashionable drawing master of the day, popular for both his loose, yet clear, application of pigment and his willingness to extend the bounds of the medium of watercolour.
William Payne was born in Westminster, London, on 4 March 1760, the son of a highly successful hop and coal merchant who was originally from Burwash, Sussex. He received some drawing lessons, possibly from Paul Sandby, and in 1776 sent a drawing to the Society of Artists, though he did not exhibit again for a decade. In 1778, he was appointed a ‘fifth class’ draughtsman by the Board of Ordnance, and worked in its Drawing Room at the Tower of London. He received training in drawing, mathematics and perspective, the last taught by Henry Gilder, a protégé and servant of Thomas Sandby. He then tested that training in an apprenticeship of surveying and mapping, and also of gun drill.
By 1783, he had been promoted to the second class.
The Board of Ordnance then sent Payne to Plymouth Dock, as one of a team concerned with its defence against the French. His tour of duty ran from March 1783 to September 1788. During his time in Plymouth, Payne married and began to develop a distinct artistic career. From 1786 to 1790, he exhibited West Country views at the Royal Academy of Arts. From 1788, his work was engraved and published by Samuel Middiman. By the end of 1789, he had obtained a permanent London address (at 2 Thornhaugh Street, Bedford Square). And from 1790 to 1794, when he left the service of the Board, he made extensive tours of Wales and the West Country.
Payne’s manner of work developed the watercolour from a tinted drawing to a painting which relied less on prominent pen outline and more on the build up of washes. However, he retained the use of a monochrome palette, and invented his own characteristic tint which is still known as ‘Payne’s Grey’. His manner was not only distinctive but easy to explain, so that he became an extremely fashionable and successful drawing master. John Glover was among the most notable of his pupils.
In 1809, Payne relaunched himself as an exhibiting artist, working in both oil and watercolour: he showed work at the British Institution, and was elected as an associate of the Society of Painters in Water Colours (a membership which would lapse four years later). Then in the following year, at the height of his career, he moved into a new house (at 49 Upper Baker Street, Marylebone). Though he widened his subject matter (by touring the Lake District in 1811 and 1819), his popularity slowly began to decline. He died in London at home in August 1830.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection, and numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; and The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.