Wilson was apprenticed at age thirteen to a decorator named John Norrie in Edinburgh and then received instruction in landscape painting from Alexander Nasmyth. For about two years Wilson lived in Montrose, where he painted landscapes and taught drawing. In 1798 he moved to London, where he painted scenery for Astley's Amphitheatre and one or two other theatres. During 1807–1855 he exhibited 76 paintings at the Royal Academy. In addition he exhibited 144 paintings at the British Institution (BI) during the 1813–1854 period. In 1825 he won a premium of £100 from the BI for his painting titled The Battle of Trafalgar, which was subsequently purchased by Lord Northwick. In 2010 the painting was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to East Ayrshire Council which displayed it locally at the Baird Institute in Cumnock. Wilson was one of the founders of the Society of British Artists where he exhibited extensively throughout his working life. He was its president for the year 1827. In 1827 he was also elected an honorary member of the Scottish Academy.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Wilson, John (1774-1855)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Bryan, Michael; Williamson, George C. (1905). "Wilson, John (1774–1855)". Bryan's dictionary of painters and engravers. vol. 5, S–Z. NY: Macmillan. p. 381.
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- Wilson, John H 'Jock'. "Paintings Exhibited at the Royal Academy". Retrieved 20 September 2020.
- Wilson, John H 'Jock'. "Paintings Exhibited at the British Institution". Retrieved 20 September 2020.
- "The Battle of Tralfalgar". Cumnock Chronicle, 24 March 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
- Johnson, Jane (1975). Works Exhibited at The Royal Society of British Artists 1824–1893 and The New English Art Club 1888–1917. Church Street, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors' Club. pp. 508–510.
- Media related to John H. Wilson (marine painter) at Wikimedia Commons
- 25 artworks by or after John Wilson at the Art UK site
- Wilson, John (1774-1885) in libraries (WorldCat catalog)