Thomas Robinson, Portrait Painter

(d. 1810)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Born on the shores of Lake Windermere in Westmoreland, he early displayed a talent for art, and was noticed by John Christian Curwen, of Workington, who, about 1785, placed him with George Romney as a pupil. On his leaving Romney he was invited to Ireland, and practised for a short time as a portrait painter in Dublin. He there painted, in 1790, a portrait of "Barry Yelverton," afterwards Lord Avonmore. In an advertisement issued by him from 32 William Street, he refers to the short time he had been in Ireland, and the severe sickness which prevented his fulfilling an engagement to go abroad. His prices were twenty guineas for a whole-length, ten for a half-length and four for a head ("Dublin Chronicle," 21st August, 1790).

In 1793 he went to Laurencetown, near Gilford, in the north of Ireland, and afterwards to Lisburn. There he painted a picture of "The Battle of Ballinahinch." This picture, which was said by Bishop Percy (letter to his wife, in B. M.) to be "in a good style somewhat in the manner of 'The Death of Wolfe,'" was raffled for by sixty subscribers at a guinea each, and was won in December, 1799, by Lord Hertford, who hung it in his house in Lisburn. Moving in 1801 to Belfast, Robinson painted there in 1804 his most important work, "A Military Procession in honour of Lord Nelson," containing portraits of many of the prominent citizens of Belfast. This picture now hangs in the office of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The artist was patronized by Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, and for him painted "A Group at Dromore Palace in 1807," which now belongs to Lord Bangor.

Robinson left Belfast in 1808 and settled in Dublin. At the Society of Artists, of which he became president, he exhibited in 1809 and 1810 a number of portraits, including one of "Sir Richard Jebb," the face of which had been painted by Romney. On the death of Francis R. West in 1809 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Mastership in the Dublin Society's School.

Robinson enjoyed in his time some repute as a portrait painter, and was much esteemed by all who knew him from his simplicity and integrity. He died in his house, No. 7 Jervis Street, on 27th July, 1810. By his wife Ruth Buck, who died in 1826, he was father of Thomas Romney Robinson, the astronomer and mathematician, who was born in Dublin in 1793.

Amongst Robinson's works are:

Combat between the King's Troops and the Peasantry at Ballinahinch. Painted in 1799; raffled for, and won by Lord Hertford.

Death of Captain Evatt at Ballinahinch. Design in Indian ink for the above picture. Artists' Exhibition in Hawkins Street, 1809.

A Military Procession in Belfast in honour of Lord Nelson. [Belfast Harbour Commissioners.] Exhibited, under that title, at the Society of the Artists of the City of Dublin in Hawkins Street in 1809. Robinson, it is said, originally intended this picture to represent a "Review of the Belfast Volunteers and Yeomanry by the Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant, in 1804," by which title it is now known. About 1807 he tried to dispose of it by lottery, but, not being successful, he put in a statue of Lord Nelson in the centre of the picture, and exhibited it in Dublin as above. A note on the Key to the picture in the Harbour Office says: "The background originally represented Donegal Place, but the artist afterwards changed it into the present ideal one." No such event as a procession in honour of Lord Nelson took place, and there was never any statue of Nelson in Belfast. Robinson originally painted the picture "to hand down to future generations the likenesses of the principal inhabitants assembled in one of the most beautiful parts of this improving town. It will be an additional value to the undertaking," he says, "that ladies will be introduced as gracing the interesting scene" (see Benn's "History of Belfast"). The picture, which is 6 by 9 feet, contains portraits of the Marquess of Donegal, Sir Arthur Chichester, Bart., Sinclair, Narcissus Batt, Mrs. Batt, James Douglas, George Augustus Seymour Harvey, Thomas Verner, Gilbert McIlveen, Nathaniel Gregg, William Johnston, Hugh Crawford, John Sinclair, Mrs. Graydon, Alexander Stewart, author of "Resurrection," a poem; Robert Getty, Rev. Dr. Bruce, Mrs. Bruce, Thomas Whinnery, Henry Joy, John Smith, Thomas Stott, Robert Batt, Andrew John Barnett, George Joy, Rev. Mr. Armstrong, Thompson, artist, Rev. T. Romney Robinson, as a boy, Dr. Stewart, M.D., Rev. W. Hamilton Drummond, D.D. (author of "The Battle of Trafalgar, a poem"), James McDonnell, M.D., George Joy, jun., John Hill Sharman, the Painter himself, and Mrs. Robinson.

A Group at Dromore Palace in 1807. [Lord Bangor.]

The Giant's Causeway. A large picture disposed of by raffle.

Barry Yelverton, afterwards Lord Avonmore. Painted in Dublin in 1790. A laudatory notice of it appeared in the "Dublin Chronicle" of 14th August, 1790: "The coup d'oeil of this picture is grand, chaste, yet full of dignity of character; but in the background there is a brilliancy of colouring which cannot be too sufficiently admired. Robinson seems to have followed the manner of Romney, and indeed in some of his best pictures comes near the style of that celebrated artist." Robinson produced, in 1792, a folio engraving in stipple, done by himself, of the picture, inscribed Painted and engraved by T. Robinson, Dublin. It was printed on "a beautiful copperplate paper made by Nun, the first paper of the kind ever manufactured in Ireland" ("Dublin Chronicle," 1st February, 1792). A small anonymous print from the picture, bust only, appeared in the "Hibernian Magazine," February, 1791.

Archdeacon Brinkley. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

William Bruce, D.D. [Miss Lucy Armstrong, Dublin.]

William Bruce, D.D., and his wife. Painted in 1804. [Belfast Chamber of Commerce.]

Margaret, Countess Dowager of Clanwilliam. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Conway Richard Dobbs, of Castle Dobbs, Co. Antrim, M.P. [Mrs. R. Conway Dobbs, Camphire, Cappoquin.]

John Doyle, M.P. for Mullingar, afterwards General Sir John Doyle. Engraved by H. Houston in "Hibernian Magazine," July, 1791.

William Hamilton Drummond, D.D. [Rev. R. B. Drummond, Edinburgh.]

John W., 2nd Earl of Enniskillen. [B. T. Balfour, Townley Hall, Drogheda.]

Mrs. Fortescue. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

James Fulton. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Dr. Gamble. Ex. Belfast, 1895, by James Musgrave.

Valentine Jones, of Belfast. Ex. Belfast, 1895, by J. G. Smith. Robinson painted three pictures of Jones when the latter was old and blind.

Sir Richard Jebb. The face painted by Romney, Ex. Dublin, 1810. 

Rev. Dr. Moody. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Elizabeth, Countess of Masserene, Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Sir Richard Musgrave. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Arthur O'Neill, the Blind Harper. [Edward Robinson, Belfast.]

Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore. Ex. Dublin, 1809; and Belfast, 1895, by J. M. Dickson.

William Ritchie, the founder of Belfast shipbuilding in 1791. [Belfast Art Gallery.] Painted in 1802. Thomas Romney Robinson, the painter's son, in his "Juvenile Poems" addressed his "Triumph of Commerce" to him.

James Ross. Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Michael Thomas Sadleir. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Lupton.

William Sharman, in uniform of the Moira Volunteers. [Colonel R. G. Sharman-Crawford, Crawfordsburn.]

Robert Shaw, M.P., afterwards Sir Robert, 1st Bart, Ex. Dublin, 1809.

Two Views of Belfast. Water-colour; done in 1800 for William MacLaine, shipbuilder. Ex. Belfast, 1888, by Alexander MacLaine.

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