He was born in Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire, and apprenticed to his father as a cabinet maker. In 1755 he went to Kendal to learn painting, and within two years was becoming well known as a portraitist. In 1762, by which time he was married with two children, he went to London, where he soon had a thriving enterprise and was engaged to paint the portraits of many famous people, including Emma Hamilton. He did not return to his family in Kendal until 1798.
See also: English school of painting
For the American politician see George W. Romney.