Born in Baltimore and raised in Newton, Massachusetts, William McGregor Paxton became a prominent late 19th, early 20th-century figure painter of the Boston School, especially noted for female subjects, and a key artist in the establishment of American Impressionism. Paxton also painted outdoor views of upper class life such as croquet games and hotel verandah scenes. In Philadelphia where he lived briefly, he received so many commissions for portrait paintings that he was referred to as the "court painter of Philadelphia." Portrait subjects included Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Grover Cleveland. In addition to his canvas paintings, Paxton was a muralist whose work was at the Army and Navy Club of New York City and St. Botolph's Club of Boston. He was also a lithographer, and etcher, with studios in Boston, East Gloucester, and Provincetown. In 1928, he became a full member of the National Academy of Design.
Paxton studied in Boston with Dennis Miller Bunker at the Cowles School and then in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Jean Leon Gérôme, the teacher of Bunker, and a life-long influence on Paxton's skill with figures. In 1893, Paxton returned to Boston from Paris and studied at the Cowles School with Joseph De Camp, a new faculty member who had much influence on Paxton in the execution of what became his signature interiors: Vermeer-like scenes of well-to-do persons in elegant, quiet settings.
William Paxton died in Boston in 1941.