Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, Henry (1773-1843)

THOMSON, HENRY (1773–1843), painter, the son of a purser in the navy, was born at St. George's Square, Portsea, on 31 July 1773. He was at school for nearly nine years at Bishop's Waltham. In 1787 he went with his father to Paris, and returned to London on the breaking out of the revolution. He became a pupil of the painter John Opie [q. v.], and in 1790 entered the schools of the Royal Academy. In 1793 his father took him again to the continent to complete his studies, and he travelled in Italy till 1798, visiting Parma, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice. He returned by Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, and Hamburg in 1799. He found ‘Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery’ in course of active preparation, and contributed to it ‘Perdita’ and some subjects from ‘The Tempest.’ As early as 1792 he had exhibited a portrait at the Royal Academy, but he did not become a regular contributor till 1800, after his return to England. In 1801 he was elected an associate, and in 1802 an academician. From this time onwards he continued to exhibit many mythological and domestic subjects, as well as portraits, until 1825. Among his chief works were ‘Mercy interceding for a fallen Warrior,’ 1804; ‘Love Sheltered’ and ‘The Red Cross Knight,’ 1806 (both engraved in mezzotint by William Say); ‘Love's Ingratitude,’ 1808; ‘The Distressed Family,’ 1809; ‘Titania,’ 1810; ‘Peasants in a Storm,’ 1811; ‘The Infancy of Jupiter’ (engraved by Henry Meyer), and ‘Lavinia,’ 1812; ‘Eurydice’ (engraved by William Ward) and ‘Thais,’ 1814; ‘Cupid Disarmed’ and ‘Icarus,’ 1815; ‘Christ raising Jairus's Daughter,’ 1820; ‘Juliet,’ 1825. He designed a large number of small illustrations for Sharpe's ‘Poets’ and ‘British Classics,’ and other publications. In 1825 he was appointed keeper of the Royal Academy, in succession to Henry Fuseli [q. v.], but resigned the office after two years owing to a severe illness, from which he never recovered sufficiently to undertake any more work of importance. He retired to Portsea, where he died on 6 April 1843, and was buried in Portsmouth churchyard. Thomson's pictures were extremely popular in his own day, but they are now chiefly known by the good mezzotint engravings in which they were reproduced. A portrait of Thomson, by John Jackson, was engraved by Robert Cooper in 1817; another was painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 346).

[Gent. Mag. 1843, iii. 100; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Royal Academy Catalogues.]

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