Born in London, John Augustus Atkinson travelled to St Petersburg in 1784, to visit his uncle James Walker, who was engraver to Catherine the Great. Encouraged by Catherine and her son Paul, Atkinson studied the picture galleries and painted large Russian history scenes. On his return to Britain, Atkinson published A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs, and Amusements of the Russians, illustrated with 100 of his own etchings. In 1808 he was elected to the Society of Painters in Water Colours; he also made regular contributions to the Royal Academy exhibition. During the Napoleonic wars Atkinson specialised in naval subjects.