Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Graham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson
GRAHAM, THOMAS ALEXANDER FERGUSON (1840–1906), artist, born at Kirkwall on 27 Oct. 1840, was only son of Alexander Spears Graham, writer to the signet and crown chamberlain of Orkney (like his father before him), by his wife Eliza Stirling. About 1850, some time after their father's death, Thomas and an only sister went to Edinburgh to live with their grandmother.
The boy's artistic instincts asserted themselves early. When little more than fourteen he was on the recommendation of the painter James Drummond [q. v.] enrolled (9 Jan. 1855) a student of the Trustees Academy. He proved an apt pupil in the talented group of McTaggart, Orchardson, Pettie, Chalmers, and the rest, who gathered round the recently appointed master, Robert Scott Lauder [q. v.]. Although he was the youngest of the coterie, Graham's talent and personal charm gave him a prominent place in it. He began to exhibit at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1859, but in 1863 he joined his friends Orchardson and Pettie in London. With Mr. C. E. Johnston, another Edinburgh-trained artist, the three shared a house in Fitzroy Square. Subsequently he occupied studios in Gloucester Road and Delancy Street, settling for good in 1886 at 96 Fellows Road, South Hampstead.
Save John MacWhirter, Graham spent more time abroad than any of his associates. As early as 1860 he went to Paris with McTaggart and Pettie, and two years later he paid, with Pettie and George Paul Chalmers, the first of several visits to Brittany, which supplied many pleasing and congenial subjects. In 1864 he was in Venice, where he did some charming sketches, and about 1885 he paid a prolonged visit to Morocco, then little exploited by artists, where he penetrated to Fez, and painted 'Easmet' (now in the Dundee Gallery) and other oriental subjects. But the picturesque Fifeshire fishing villages, the Httle seaports on the Moray Firth, and the wild west coast of Scotland were perhaps his favourite sketching grounds.
Graham's earlier pictures engagingly combine quaint naturalism and imaginative insight. 'A Young Bohemian' (1864), in the National Gallery of Scotland, is a delightful example of his work at that time. Later his handling broadened and his feeling for light and movement increased, and in pictures such as 'The Clang of the Wooden Schoon,' 'The Passing Salute,' or 'The Siren' he attained much rhythmic beauty of design, great charm of high-pitched and opalescent colour, and a fine sense of atmosphere. And, if lower in tone and more sombre in colour, 'The Last of the Boats' and a few other dramatic pictures of the sea are, in their different mood, equally successful. His art, however, was too sensitive and refined to command wide attention, and, owing to extreme fastidiousness, he was a somewhat uncertain executant. The only distinction conferred upon him was honorary membership of the Royal Scottish Academy, which he received in 1883. Latterly he gave much of his time to portraiture, in which his finest gifts had little scope. His most successful pictures rank with the best achievements of his school.
He died unmarried while on a visit to Edinburgh on 24 Dec. 1906. 'Tom' Graham, whose winning manners and brilliant conversational powers made him a great favourite with his friends, was exceptionally handsome. Excellent portraits of him by himself and by Orchardson and Pettie belong to his sister, and he served as model for these two artists on several occasions, notably in 'The First Cloud' by the former, and in 'The Jacobites' by the latter.
[Private information; personal knowledge; exhibition catalogues; Report of R.S.A. for 1907; Scotsman, 25 Dec. 1906; Sir W. Armstrong's Scottish Painters, 1887; J. L. Caw's Scottish Painting, 1908.]