(1714–91). English painter. After training under Thomas Hudson, Penny travelled to Rome in the early 1740s and studied under the decorative painter Marco Benefial. In 1743 he returned to England and by 1748 was an established portrait painter. In 1765 he exhibited the first of his paintings illustrating virtuous behaviour, Lord Granby Relieving Distress (Oxford, Ashmolean) at the Society of Artists. This was well received and was followed, in 1768, by The Generous Behaviour of the Chevalier Bayard (untraced), which proved equally popular and was widely distributed as an engraving. Although he continued to paint portraits Penny's reputation rests on these works of moral genre which reflected the shift from reason to sentiment exemplified in the work of the French painter Greuze. In 1768 he became a founder member of the RA (See under London), where he exhibited, in 1774, The Virtuous Comforted by Sympathy and Attention and its pendant The Profligate Punished by Neglect and Contempt (New Haven, Yale Center for British Art). His pupil William Redmore Bigg (1755–1828) adopted his subjects as did many Victorian genre painters.
From The Oxford Companion to Western Art in Oxford Reference.