Pilkington, Sir William (1775-1850)

Pilkington, Sir William (1775-1850)

Sir William Pilkington, 8th Baronet, was a keen amateur artist and a generous patron of the arts. He’s particularly known for his close association with JMW Turner (1775-1851) with whom he placed various commissions. In one of these, a hunting scene at Otley Chevin in West Yorkshire, Turner included him as the main figure. The original is currently in the Wallace Collection.

Pilkington was also a keen student of the techniques of others and mentioned in literature for his broad knowledge of Richard Wilson (1714-1782). It’s possible that he took lessons with Joseph Farington RA (1747-1821), one of Wilson’s pupils.

An obituary in the Art Journal (1850) described his acute mind.

“Sir William had travelled much, with an observant eye and with most persevering research into all matters connected with the arts he loved. Those who were intimately acquainted with him will never forget his varied information, his intimate knowledge of the progress of Art during the last half century, and his happy elucidation of it by references to his own original sketches and his illustrated library of rare productions.”



Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire to Sir Michael Pilkington, 6th Bt. and Isabella Pilkington (nee Rawstorne).

Educated at Charterhouse.


Matriculated at Trinity College Cambridge.



Undertook a Grand Tour, which incorporated sketching.


Succeeded as the 8th Baronet Pilkington of Stanley, near Wakefield and Nether Bradley.

C. 1813

Commissioned JMW Turner to produce several drawings.

Lived at Chevet in Royston, Yorkshire, England.


Mentioned in ‘Some account of the life of Richard Wilson, Esq., R.A’ by T. Wright in connection with his breadth of knowledge regarding the artist.

“His air tint was blue, burnt ochre, and light red, sometimes a little vermilion, and, in other cases, he made his air tint of the lakes and blue; with the lakes he made his glazing tints on the foreground very rich and warm, and of their full force; but all this was mo- derated by the tints which he laid on the glazings. If any part was hard, he restored it by scumbling the air tint, suited to the distance of the part, over it, and then added the finishing touches, and sharpness, to prevent its being smoky or mealy. A magylph, or majellup, of linseed oil and mastic varnish, in which the latter predominated, was his usual vehicle, and an oyster-shell served him to contain it. He dead-coloured with Prussian blue, but always finished the sky and distance with ultramarine; for it was his opinion that no other blue could give the beautiful effect of air.

For the chief of the above particulars, respecting the colours and the process used by Wilson, I stand indebted to my much valued friend and fellow-traveller, Sir William Pilkington, Bart., a lover of art, possessing at the same time refinement of taste and a practical knowledge such as few amateurs can boast. To him they were communicated by a gentleman who received them from the late Mr. Farrington*, a pupil of Wilson, - an authority not to be disputed.”

*Presumably Joseph Farington RA (1747-1821).


Married Mary Milborne-Swinnerton, daughter and co-heir of Thomas Swinnerton of Butterton Hall, Staffordshire. As referred to in the press.

“In the number of marriages in high life, we understand that Miss Swinnerton, of Butterton Hall, near Newcastle, will in a few weeks be led to the hymeneal altar by Sir William Pilkington, Bart. of Wakefield. In addition to a most amiable disposition, polished manners, and refinement, her fortune is calculated to exceed 110,000.”


Lived at Butterton Hall, Trentham, Staffordshire.


Died at Chevet Hall, Wakefield.


Monmouthshire Beacon

“The Late Sir William Pilkington, Bart. - The family from which S William Pilkington sprang is one of the oldest in England. Fuller says that the Pilkingtons, originally of Rivington, in the county of Lancaster, were ‘a right ancient family,’ and that they were gentlemen of repute in the shire before the Conquest, at which time the chief of the house, being sought after by the Norman soldiery, was fain to disguise himself as a thrasher in a barn; from which circumstance, partly alluding to the head of the flail falling sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, and occasionally on himself, he took for the motto of his arms ‘Now thus, now thus!’ and for his crest, ‘a thrasher ppr.’

Sir William succeeded to the baronetcy of Nova Scotia, conferred on Sir Arthur Pilkington in 1635, at the decease of his brother the late Sir Thomas Pilkington, in 1811. He married, in 1823, Mary, second daughter and co-heir of the late Thomas Swinnerton, Esq., of Butterton-hall, in the county of Stafford, and leaves, with other issue, a son and heir, the present Sir Thomas Pilkington, Bart.”

“We record with regret in our obituary to-day, the death of Sir William Pilkington, Bart., who died at his seat, Chevet Hall near Wakefield on Monday last, the 30th ult., after an illness of some months duration. The deceased bart. was we believe in his 75th year. When owner of the Hilston Estate near this town, in 1810, he served the office of Sheriff of Monmouthshire; and some years afterwards he became further connected with the county by his marriage to the second daughter of Thomas Swinnerton, Esq., of Wonastow Court, by whom he has left several children. Our local charities have always benefitted by the contributions of the deceased, and seldom has a winter passed without our poor having reason to thank him for his benevolence. We hear that the Wonastow Estates are limited to Lady Pilkington for life, and after her death, to her second son, who has taken the surname of Swinnerton.”

Huddersfield Chronicle

“Death of Sir William Pilkington. - Sir William Pilkington, Bart., of Chevet Hall, expired on Monday evening last, shortly after eleven o'clock, after a severe and lengthened illness. The deceased baronet was the second son of Sir Michael Pilkington, and succeeded to the title and family estates on the death of his brother, Sir Thomas, on the 8th of July, 1811.

Independently of his Yorkshire property, Sir William possessed large estates at Butterton Hall, near Newcastle, in Staffordshire, and at Wonastow, near Monmouth. He was in the 75th year of his age, and had been confined to the house by indisposition since the early part of February last.

He was married in 1825, to Miss Swinnnerton, daughter of Thomas Swinnerton, Esq., of Butterton and Wonastow, and has left three sons and three daughters by this marriage. He is succeeded by his eldest son, now Sir Thos. Edward Pilkington, who attained his majority on the 19th of March last. The second son is Wm.Melborne Melborne Swinnerton, and the third is Lionel Pilkington, now about fifteen years of age. Neither of the daughters-Mary, Sophia Portia, and Elizabeth, are married.

The deceased baronet was formerly sheriff for Monmouthshire, but he declined the honour for Yorkshire. He was possessed of great literary attainments, having a thorough knowledge of ancient as well as modern languages, and studiously reading the classics to nearly the end of his life. He was also an excellent biblical scholar - his great delight being the study of the Hebrew, in order that he might read the Bible in its original language.

His taste in painting was accurate and refined, and in this art he himself greatly excelled. One of the latest acts of benevolence of Sir William, was the erection, at his own cost, of the schools and masters' house, at New Miller Dam, for the benefit and instruction of the children of the poorer classes in that neighbourhood. The remains of the deceased baronet will be interred on Thursday next, in a vault now being formed in Sandal Church.”

The Art Journal

“Sir William Pilkington Bart. The name of this worthy Baronet, an amateur painter of more than ordinary ability, and an enthusiastic lover of the Fine Arts, is entitled to a place in our Obituary list. He died on the 30th of September, at his seat, Chevet Hall, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, at the advanced age of seventy-five.

The name of Pilkington is well-known among those who have studied the biographies of artists; but the subject of the present notice, we believe, claimed no relationship with the author of the ‘Dictionary of Painters.’ Sir William was one of the most accomplished and persevering amateurs of our day; and, until his last illness, he devoted a certain portion of his time to his favourite pursuit. He chiefly excelled in landscapes, forming his style in a great measure upon that of Richard Wilson. His pictures exhibit breadth and truthfulness of effect, combined with depth and transparency of colouring. One of his latest works was a large view of the Chapel on the bridge at Wakefield, erected by Edward IV., in commemoration of the engagement fought between the rival houses of York and Lancaster in 1460. This exquisite specimen of the architecture of that period was ruthlessly swept away, on the plea of restoration, from its original site; but was subsequently rescued from destruction by the interference and liberality of the Hon. C. Norton, who has re-erected the same, with great judgement, on the bosom of a lake in the grounds of his seat at Kettlethorpe, Yorkshire.

Architecture, as well as painting, engaged much of the late Baronet's attention. The design of Butterton Hall, Staffordshire, will remain an enduring monument of the elegance of his taste and the soundness of his judgement. As a scholar, he was ‘a ripe and good one;’ he studied the Scriptures in their vernacular tongue, and also published a translation of Schiller's ‘Marie Stuart.’ Sir William had travelled much, with an observant eye and with most persevering research into all matters connected with the arts he loved. Those who were intimately acquainted with him will never forget his varied information, his intimate knowledge of the progress of Art during the last half century, and his happy elucidation of it by references to his own original sketches and his illustrated library of rare productions. He possessed a few valuable pictures by the old masters, and some by R. Wilson, Morland, and Thompson; but he disclaimed altogether the idea of being considered a collector. Of Turner's drawings, however, he had a portfolio of unusual excellence, of the best period of this great artist. The series embraces views in Italy, Switzerland, and Great Britain.

Sir William rather avoided the great world, as it is termed; in fact, the daily and affectionate intercourse he held with his large family, together with the occupation of much of his time as a practical agriculturist, and a laborious amateur, left him but little opportunity, even had he been so inclined, for participating in the pursuits of fashion. His character was that of a polished, unobtrusive gentleman - one of the old school - whose heart I was in its right place, and who worthily responded to all claims upon his relative and social position.”

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