Richard Paton was the youngest son of an impoverished family and was sent out at an early age to beg as an artist on the streets of London. On one occasion he sufficiently impressed Admiral Sir Charles Knowles to pick up a berth on his ship as assistant to the ship's painter, and from there he blossomed, eventually becoming one of the principal painters of the eighteenth century. A self-taught artist, Paton's paintings sometimes have a naive quality to them, but they are always packed full of drama and emotion. Indeed his work caught the eye of contemporary art critics, leading the Gentleman's Magazine to state in 1764 that 'Paton must stand with Samuel Scott as the foremost in painting shipping'.
Paton was influenced greatly by his close friend Charles Brooking in his early years, but later it was his rivalry with Dominic Serres that became all encompassing. They both rose to significant status in the eyes of the public who were captivated by the maritime exploits of their naval commanders and the artists that depicted each action. However in the 1780's Dominic Serres received Royal patronage, and in 1785 he went to work in Paris with the great Claude Joseph Vernet, causing the artist Paul Sandby to write 'Alas, poor Paton, hide your diminished head, your topsails are lowered.' Paton died in London six years later as a rich and famous man, but having lost the artistic battle with his great competitor. A sale of Richard Paton's art collection took place on 30th March 1792 at Christie's in Wardour Street, Soho and listed three Rembrandts, a Titian, three Brueghels, two Rubens, one Poussin, three Teniers, one Charles Brooking and an 'accurate and complete model of a frigate in a large mahogany case' - a fine collection indeed for someone who started life as a beggar.