Born in Cambridge, Wilkinson later found satisfaction living with his family in Southsea where he spent time along the Solent painting and sketching. He enrolled at Portsmouth School of Art receiving his art masters certificate, later studying under Louis Grier at St. Ives. He made numerous passages in both coastal colliers and upon deep water voyages before he finally settled in London.
He was made artist for 'Illustrated London News' in 1898; in 1901 they sent him to cover Sir Thomas Lipton's SHAMROCK 2 attempt at the cup. He stayed with the news until 1915, then taking a commission as asst. Paymaster in royal naval reserve. He was thus present at Dardanelles campaign as Lt. Royal naval volunteer reserve. It was his idea to dazzle-paint ships to confuse the German aim.
A keen yachtsman, he was made honorary marine painter at the royal yacht squadron in 1919, as well as president of the Royal Society of Painters in watercolours, a recognized leader of British marine ptrs. His autobiography "A Brush with Life" was published in 1969.
He became one of the best-known poster designers for both shipping and railway. Universally admired by 20th century marine painters, he understood the mechanics of moving sea water more than the Dutch masters. His works are painterly with an accomplished handling of color: ships and sea are always 'right'.
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In addition to his numerous maritime pictures, Wilkinson also painted airplanes as this was a strong interest of his.
When World War Two broke out in 1939, he became inspector of camouflage with the rank of air commodore. He was present at the invasion of Normandy in 1944 where he rendered the dramatic scene from the destroyer 'JERVIS'. From these sketches he executed his War at Aea series, a set of 53 oils of naval and coastal command royal air force events.