George Charles Morland (1763-1804) George Morland was an immensely prolific painter of landscape and rustic genre who gained widespread popularity through the dissemination of engravings of his work. George Morland was born in the Haymarket, London on 26 June 1763, the eldest of six children of Henry Robert Morland (painter, engraver and art dealer) and Jenny Lacam (an amateur artist who was daughter to a French jeweller). His father had become bankrupt in 1762, and so latched onto the artistic promise that Morland showed from an early age as a way of restoring the family fortunes. Only ten years old when he exhibited (chalk drawings) at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1773, he also exhibited at the Free Society of Artists (from 1775) and the Society of Artists (from 1777).
In 1777, Morland began a seven-year apprenticeship under his father, during which he produced copies of old masters, passed off by his father as originals, and original works that were increasingly exhibited – and engraved (the first two by John Raphael Smith in 1780). Near the end of this period, he received an offer from George Romney to take him into his studio, but he rejected this in favour of a place at the Royal Academy. However, his attendance there was sporadic and short-lived as he chose to spend increasing amounts of time in alehouses.
Thus he showed wayward characteristics for the first time, possibly in reaction to his strict upbringing.
In 1784, Morland began to work independently of his father, living close to Drury Lane, and painting portraits and genre scenes for an Irish dealer, who paid him as little as he could get away with.
By 1786, Morland was lodging in Kensal Green with the young engraver, William Ward, who, with his brother James, had studied under John Raphael Smith. During the year, Morland married Ward’s sister, Anne, and Ward married George’s sister, Maria, who, like George, was an exhibiting painter. Following their marriages, the two couples shared a house in Marylebone High Street, the Morlands later moving to Kentish Town (then Leicester Square and Covent Garden). In this year, Morland began to establish himself as a painter by producing Laetitia or, A Harlot’s Progress, a series of six images modelled on a similar work by William Hogarth. However, success encouraged him into such an extravagant lifestyle that, by 1789, he had to set himself to clear his debts. He did this within fifteen months, some of which were spent on the Isle of Wight, where he went to evade his creditors. These financial problems did not stop him becoming fiercely independent so that, repelled by polite society, he is said to have refused a commission from the Prince of Wales.
The early 1790s proved relatively stable for Morland, allowing him to produce some of his best work, including the genre scenes of peasants, gypsies and smugglers that gained him a high reputation. Selling most of his paintings through his brother, Henry, who had a shop in Dean Street, Soho, he also held solo shows at Daniel Orme & Co (1792, 1793) and John Raphael Smith’s temporary Morland Gallery (1793 – with 36 pictures to be engraved). At this time of industry, he took on at least five pupils.
Nevertheless, difficulties with creditors continued, pressing Morland to move continually: from Paddington to Leicestershire and possibly the Lake District, then back to London; there he had successive addresses in Charlotte Street, Lambeth, East Sheen, the Minories, Kentish Town, Soho, Newington, Kennington Green and Hackney.
Escaping with his wife to the Isle of Wight in April 1799 (Cowes, then Yarmouth), Morland returned to London by the November, and was soon arrested at his lodgings in Vauxhall. He was committed to the King’s Bench Prison, living within its rules in a small, furnished house in St George’s Fields. A year after his release in 1802, he placed himself in the custody of the Marshalsea, (a debtors prison), in order to avoid further harassment from creditors.
Nevertheless, on moving to live with his brother, Henry, Morland revived his mode of riotous living, so inducing a series of apoplectic fits and periods of paralysis. On 19 October 1804, he was arrested by a publican and conveyed to a bailiff ’s lodging house in Eyre Street, Coldbath Fields, where, in attempting to make a drawing that could be sold in discharge of the debt, he was seized with a fit that proved the beginning of brain fever. He died on 29 October 1804. His wife survived him only three days, the news of his death bringing on convulsive fits from which she died on 2 November. Their remains were interred together in the burying-place of St James’s Chapel, Hampstead Road.
His continuing popularity and influence – on John Constable and David Wilkie among others – was due to the many engravings made after his work.
His work is represented in numerous public collections including the British Museum, Tate and the V&A.