Ferneley was born in Thrussington, Leicestershire, on 18 May 1782. He was first apprenticed to his father, a master wheelwright; then in 1801 Ferneley was apprenticed for three years to the sporting painter Ben Marshall. He may also have studied at the Royal Academy Schools, though he is not listed in the students' register. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 and continued to exhibit there, at the British Institution, and at the Society of British Artists on Suffolk Street, but only sporadically. From 1804 onward he traveled extensively executing commissions, making several long visits to Ireland between 1808 and 1812. In 1814 Ferneley settled in Melton Mowbray, traveling less widely thereafter.
Ferneley was a prolific painter who specialized in posed portraits of horses and of immaculately dressed sportsmen on their mounts (often in groups), large group portraits of an entire hunt, and hunting scenes, especially hunts in full cry. He also painted coaches, carriages in Hyde Park, prize cattle, dogs, game, and sporting meetings.
His clients included seven dukes and numerous members of the aristocracy; Lord Cardigan was one of his principal patrons. In 1809 Ferneley married Sarah Kettle. The couple had seven children, two of them later following their father's profession. Ferneley's wife died in 1836, and in 1844 he married Ann Allan, by whom he had another son. He died at Melton Mowbray on 3 June 1860.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 71-72.]
Paget, Guy. The Melton Mowbray of John Ferneley. Leicester and New York, 1931.
Paget, Guy. "Ben Marshall and John Ferneley." Apollo 40 (1944): 30-37.
Ellis, Colin D. B. John Ferneley 1782-1860. Exh. cat. Leicester Museums and Art Gallery, Leicester, 1960.
Webster, Mary and Lionel Lambourne. British Sporting Painting 1650-1850. Exh. cat. Hayward Gallery, London; Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. London, 1974: 74-79.
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 71-72.