John Downman was born near Ruabon, Wales. He was a pupil of Benjamin West from 1768 and entered the Royal Academy Schools the following year, exhibiting at the Academy from 1770. He travelled to Italy and was in Rome from 1773 to 1774. From 1777 to 1778 he was at Cambridge, where he began a series of portrait drawings and painted small portrait heads in oils. In c.1776 he began his annotated 'albums' of portrait drawings, from which he could execute repetitions. From 1779 to 1804 he was settled in London, but later travelled considerably. In 1806, he married in Exeter, but left after his wife died in 1808. He was again mainly in London before settling in Chester in 1817. However, he died in Wrexham, having returned to Wales.
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