Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing dark blue velvet frock coat, pale yellow waistcoat and black stock 

William John Thomson (Anglo-American 1771/3-1845)

Portrait miniature of a Gentleman, wearing dark blue velvet frock coat, pale yellow waistcoat and black stock, William John Thomson
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Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
Oval, 67mm (2 5/8in) high
 
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Original gold frame, the reverse glazed to reveal dark brown loosely plaited hair.


William John Thomson was born in Savannah, Georgia to a Scottish-American loyalist. He left America as a child, coming to London where he learned to paint and from 1795 he exhibited at the Royal Academy. Upon moving to Edinburgh, he married Helen Colhoun on 12 May 1797. His portrait subjects appear to be men and women from the emerging middle classes, including those in literary circles this was possibly due to his family connection with the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, whom he painted in 1832 when she was in Manchester. As with this the present example, his sitters are painted with great care, the various fabrics described in detail. Although he was based throughout his career in Britain, his miniatures are often mistaken for works by American miniaturists.

In 1829, after a long and successful career as a miniaturist, he was made an academician of the Royal Scottish Academy. Having started his studio in London he worked in Edinburgh from the late eighteenth century, where he died in 1845.

His work is represented in most major museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which has three examples of his work.
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