John Thomas Serres was born in London in December 1759 to Dominic Serres, a prominent painter and a founder of the Royal Academy. Instructed by his father, John was involved in the publication of the maritime painter’s guide Liber Nauticus and the younger Serres had soon developed a successful independent painting career, the Royal Academy and British Institution exhibiting over 100 of his paintings over his lifetime. He also became Master of Drawing at the Royal Naval College in Chelsea and in 1793 was made Marine Painter to the King after his father’s death.
Serres’ successful career was badly damaged in the early 19th century by the activities of his wife Olivia Serres, who came to believe that she was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland and publicly pressed her “claim” to his estate, insisting on being addressed as “Princess Olive of Cumberland”. Consequently, out of favour at court, Serres was forced to attempt to recoup his losses by investing in the theatre, setting up the Royal Coburg Theatre in 1818 that eventually became known as the “Old Vic”. However his wife’s activities again ruined him and he died in December 1825 in a London debtors’ prison.