Wilton trained under Laurent Delvaux in Nivelles, and in 1744 moved to Paris to study at the Académie with Pigalle. From 1747 he spent seven years in Italy, the last four in Florence. In 1755 he returned to England, and soon established a considerable reputation. He was appointed 'Sculptor to His Majesty' in 1764.
He was the most important of the three sculptors who became Foundation members of the Royal Academy in 1768, and exhibited there from 1769 to 1783. In 1790 he was appointed Keeper of the Royal Academy, and held the post until his death.
Wilton's most grandiose public statement was the Monument to General Wolfe in Westminster Abbey, which was erected 1772 (Whinney, op. cit., p. 265, fig. 193). Although perhaps best known as a designer of church monuments and as a portraitist, Wilton also produced classical statuary, including a Venus de' Medici for Lord Charlemont, Venus and Apollo for the Earl of Pembroke, and Flora and Bacchus for Lord Tilney (Gunnis,op.cit., p. 436). The present bust, after the Venus de' Medici (Haskell and Penny, loc. cit.), shows Wilton at his best. It emphasises that his gifts as a carver of marble were not diminished as a result of the fortune he inherited from his father, after which he lived opulently, with a house in town, another in the country, and 'a family coach, a phaeton, and numerous saddle-horses for himself and his sons, to whom he gave a University education' (Smith, loc. cit.).