Marshall was born in Seagrave, Leicestershire, on 8 November 1768, the fifth of the seven children of Charles and Elizabeth Marshall. Nothing is known about the occupation of his parents or about his schooling. In 1789 he married Mary Saunders of Ratby, who bore him four sons (two of whom died young) and three daughters. Described in 1791 as being a schoolmaster, he left for London the same year to study painting with the portraitist Lemuel Francis Abbott, with whom, however, he stayed only briefly. He is reputed to have taken up animal painting as a result of his seeing Sawrey Gilpin's Death of a Fox at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1793.
Marshall first published an engraving of one of his pictures in the Sporting Magazine in 1796 (his work continued to appear there throughout his career, and sixty engravings had been published by 1832). In these early years he secured royal as well as aristocratic patronage. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 and showed sporadically thereafter until 1819, chiefly portraits of racehorses and their owners; but he is reported to have despised the Royal Academy and its politics and never became an Academician. In 1801 he took in John Ferneley as an apprentice for three years. Although highly successful in London, from 1812 until 1825 Marshall lived in Norfolk, close to Newmarket, so that he could study the finest racehorses with greater ease.
In 1819 he suffered severe injuries in a coaching accident; although it has been argued that this seriously impaired the quality of his later work, there is visual evidence that this was not so, and in 1820 he was sufficiently active to build a new painting room for himself at Newmarket. From 1821 he was racing correspondent of the Sporting Magazine under the pseudonym Observator. He returned to London in 1825 and settled in Bethnal Green, where he died on 24 July 1835.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 165-166.]
Sparrow, Walter Shaw. George Stubbs and Ben Marshall. London and New York, 1929: 45-80.
Paget, Guy. "Ben Marshall and John Ferneley." Apollo 40 (1944): 30-37.
Benjamin Marshall. Exh. cat. Leicester Museums, Leicester, 1967.
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 165-166.