William Burgess was born in London; the son of painter Thomas Burgess. In 1861 he was awarded a premium by the Society of Arts. He later exhibited portraits and conversation-pieces with the Free Society of Artists in 1769 and 1771, and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1774, showing portraits and landscape views. He married Jane, with whom he had three sons: Henry William, John Cart and Thomas Burgess, all of whom became painters. William made sketching trips in south Wales and the Wye in 1785. Like his father, he was probably best known and better rewarded financially as a teacher of drawing than as an artist. He died at his home in Sloane Square, Chelsea. Today, examples of his work are in the British Museum and Newport Art Gallery.
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