He is said to have been born at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, possibly on 25 April 1721, to Samuel and Margaret Wale, though some sources indicate he was born in London. He was first trained in the art of engraving on silver plate. He then studied drawing under Francis Hayman at the St. Martin's Lane academy. Wale assisted John Gwynn in his architectural drawings, especially in a transverse section of St Paul's Cathedral, which was engraved and published in their joint names in 1752.
St Paul's Cathedral, with John Gwynn.
He became one of the original members of the Society of Artists of Great Britain in 1765 and of the Royal Academy in 1768, and was the first professor of perspective to the Academy. He exhibited drawings of scenes from English history, and occasionally scriptural subjects, described as designs for altar-pieces, from 1769 to 1778, when he suffered from a paralytic stroke, and he was placed on the Royal Academy pension fund, the first member who benefited by it. He continued to hold the professorship of perspective, though he gave private instruction at his own house instead of lecturing; and in 1782, on the death of Richard Wilson, he became librarian. He held both offices until his death on 6 February 1786. Unmarried and childless, he left his copperplates, prints, and belongings to his friend and fellow founder of the Royal Academy, architect John Gwynn, with whom he shared his house, and his nurse, Mrs. Mary Gurpin. He was buried in St. Martin-in-the-Fields. His portrait appears in Johann Zoffany's picture of the Royal Academy in 1772, engraved by Richard Earlom.