Born and brought up in Devon, Knighton studied medicine at Guy's Hospital and Edinburgh before establishing a practice in Hanover Square. In 1809 he attended the Marquess Wellesley as his physician on his embassy to Spain, and was afterwards recommended to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. First appointed as his physician, Knighton came increasingly to be relied upon by the Prince until, in 1821, he was appointed Private Secretary to the King and Keeper of the Privy Purse. He married Dorothea, youngest daughter of Captain Hawker, R.N., in 1800, by whom he had a son and a daughter. Knighted in 1812, he never sought further honours nor recognition for his role.
Knighton, who was a serious collector of pictures, first met Wilkie in 1823 and became his patron, friend and counsellor. The present work may be the surviving fragment of a three-quarter-length canvas of circa 1834/5. A drawing by Wilkie, dated 1835, shows Knighton three-quarter-length, in a cloak, wearing what may be the Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Guelphs, his left arm across his chest, and his right hand on a book on a table at his side. The artist appears to have started a portrait of Lady Knighton in 1831 (now lost), to which such a picture may have been a companion. His portrait of the Knighton's son, Sir William Wellesley Knighton, painted in 1839-40, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1841.
We are very grateful to Dr. Brian Allen who first proposed the attribution, and to Professor Hamish Miles for his help with cataloguing this lot.