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.