Andrew Wilson received his training under the tutelage of David Allan and Alexander Nasmyth. At seventeen he went to London to study at the Royal Academy Schools and by 1800 he was in Italy. In 1803 he returned with the express intention of exporting Old Master paintings to England and, though Europe was a troubled continent in 1805, he managed to import over fifty to London that year, among them Jacapo Bassano's Adoration of the Magi (National Gallery of Scotland) and Rubens' Brazen Serpent (National Gallery, London). He settled in London and then Edinburgh, where he was appointed Master of the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh in 1818. His pupils included Robert Scott Lauder, William Simson and D. O. Hill.
In 1826 he resigned, returned to Italy and lived for the next twenty years in Rome, Florence and Genoa. His main activity was art dealing, collecting on behalf of Lords Hopetoun and Pembroke, Sir Robert Peel and others. On the advice of Sir David Wilkie, Wilson aquired a group of van Dykes from various Genoese palaces with the intention of creating a 'Gallery of National Importance'. The first of these was The Lomellini Family (National Gallery of Scotland) acquired in 1830. This and further works became central to the foundation of the present National Galleries of Scotland. He also continued to paint but very few of his pictures ever made their way back to the United Kingdom.