William Artaud Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MSS 1464-1466
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      0.1 linear metres; 34 items.
  • Location
      Collection available at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The collection contains material relating to the artist William Artaud's four-year Royal Academy studentship, which enabled him to visit Italy, returning to England via Dresden, in 1795-1799.

Items comprise: a travel journal or account of Artaud's journey from Gibraltar to Italy in late 1795 (English MS 1464); a folder of letters from Artaud to his father Stephen, written during Artaud's residence in Italy and Germany, 1795-1799 (English MS 1465); and a letterbook containing copies of letters written by Artaud to various correspondents whilst he was in Italy, 1797-1798 (English MS 1466).

Administrative / Biographical History

William Artaud (1763-1823), portrait and history painter, was the son of Stephen Artaud, a Huguenot jeweller, and his wife Elizabeth. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1778, winning a silver medal in 1783 and the gold medal in 1786. A Royal Academy travelling studentship enabled him to visit Rome in 1795. There he was patronized by the radical William Henry Lambton, for whom he painted 'Liberty Tearing Away the Veils of Ignorance and Superstition' in 1797. The almost four years that he spent in Italy (1795–8) coincided with the French invasion. Although Artaud welcomed this, he was twice obliged to flee to Naples (in 1796 and 1797), and he finally left Rome for Florence in March 1798. After five months there he spent a year in Dresden, arriving back in London in October 1799.

Artaud was a successful artist around the turn of the century. He was one of fifteen artists who contributed to Thomas Macklin's monumental Bible (completed in 1800), alongside notable figures such as Henry Fuseli, Angelica Kauffman, Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West. Thereafter his career and reputation as a history painter gradually declined, especially after the death of his patron Bertie Greethead in 1804. He painted on a massive scale and the uncompromising size of his canvases led many to be discarded or mutilated. Artaud died, apparently unmarried, in London on 22 February 1823.


The archive comprises two volumes - a travel journal and copy letterbook - and a collection of 32 letters from William Artaud to his father Stephen.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was purchased by the University of Manchester Library from Kenneth S. Tayler, for £125 on 18 November 1971.

Conditions Governing Use

Photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

William Artaud's papers, together with many of his drawings and sketchbooks, appear to have passed to his sister, Anna Susanna Tayler, and then descended through the family to Kenneth S. Tayler, ARIBA, who sold the papers to the University of Manchester in 1971. In the same year, Mr Tayler entrusted the drawings and sketchbooks to Albert Charles Sewter for distribution amongst various museums and galleries. Over the next three years Sewter and Tayler's widow, Mrs E. M. Tayler, donated them to eight public institutions: the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum, Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham Castle Museum, and the Whitworth Art Gallery.


No further accruals are expected.


Albert Charles Sewter, 'The Life, Work and Letters of William Artaud, 1763–1823' (unpublished MA dissertation, University of Manchester, 1951).

Kim Sloan, 'William Artaud: History Painter and "Violent Democrat"', Burlington Magazine, 137.1103 (1995), 76-85.

Robin Simon, 'Artaud, William (1763–1823), portrait and history painter', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) https://doi-org.manchester.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/702 [accessed 18 March 2018].