Henry William Pickersgill, a portrait painter, was the brother of the marine and landscape painter Richard Pickersgill and father of the historical genre and portrait painter Henry Hall Pickersgill.
Before becoming a painter, Pickersgill worked for a silk manufacturer in London. He studied art under George Arnald, and then at the Royal Academy Schools, having obtained an introduction to Henry Fuseli. He painted landscapes, symbolic and figure paintings such as the Syrian Maid (exh. R.A. 1837; Tate Gallery, London), and illustrations from Shakespeare and Byron, but specialised in portrait painting for which he became renowned. Many famous artistic, political and religious figures sat to him, including the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1829; National Portrait Gallery, London) and the patron and collector Robert Vernon (1846; Tate Gallery, London). In 1856 he became librarian of the Royal Academy.
Pickersgill, a prolific painter, exhibited in London between 1806 until 1872 at the Royal Academy and British Institution. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1822, becoming a full member in 1826.
The art dealer David Croal Thomson, who came to live in Pickersgill's London home, wrote to JW in 1893 that 'I sometimes wonder if his spirit haunts it' (#05779).
Graves, A., The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Works from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, London, 1905-6; Wood, Christopher, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1871; 'Henry William Pickersgill', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 17 March 2003).