Charles Eastlake was born in Plymouth, the birthplace of other famous painters, notably Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was educated at the local grammar schools of Plymouth and Plympton before briefly attending Charterhouse in London.
Early on he determined on a career as an historical painter, studying under the watercolour painter Samuel Prout before going to London to work under the historical painter, Benjamin Haydon and receiving tuition from the Royal Academy schools in 1809.
His first success came with his painting of Napoleon, during the latter’s captivity on the 'Belleraphon' when the ship was moored off Plymouth Sound. A second larger version of this portrait was bought by five gentlemen from Plymouth, and the proceeds, together with the patronage of the banker Jeremiah Harman, allowed Eastlake to travel abroad to study the Old Masters.
Travel and friendships
After two brief trips to France in 1814 and 1815, Eastlake went to Rome in 1816 where he settled for the next 14 years. He continued to travel widely, for instance touring Greece in 1818 and Northern Europe in 1828. His friendships with Italian and German artists, philosophers and writers influenced his practice as an artist and his ideas about the theory of art. He became close friends with J.M.W. Turner and the portrait artist Sir Thomas Lawrence who encouraged Eastlake to brighten his palette.