Payne was brought up in Plymouth and began his career as an engineer in the naval Dockyard. He began to send drawings to London in 1776, and to the RA in 1786. In 1790 he moved to London as a professional artist where he became one of the most fashionable & successful drawing masters of the day.
He was an associate of the O.W.S. form 1809 to 1830, and exhibited at The British Institution and elsewhere from 1809 to 1830. He invented his own pigment “Payne’s Grey” which became a basic element of both his works and others.
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