William Thomson (or Thompson), Portrait Painter

(b. about 1730, d. 1800)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Was born in Dublin about 1730. He received his art education in London, and practised there as a portrait painter, exhibiting at the Society of Artists from 1760 to 1777, and at the Free Society in 1782. In the catalogues his name generally appears as "Thomson." His art was feeble, though his portraits were esteemed as likenesses. On marrying a wife with a fortune he was glad to be able to relinquish his profession; a second wife, a widow who kept a boarding school at Brompton, where he had taught drawing, also had means; but nevertheless he got into debt and, about 1770, was incarcerated in the King's Bench Prison. Here he took the lead in an agitation against the legality of imprisonment for debt and attained some notoriety by his noisy protests. He painted the portrait of one of his fellow-prisoners, "James Stephen," author of "Considerations on Imprisonment for Debt," which was engraved in mezzotint by W. Dickinson, and published by Thomson in Warwick Court in 1771. Another portrait by him, that of "Miss Anna Swan," was engraved in mezzotint by J. Watson. Edwards, "Anecdotes of Painting," assigns to him the portrait of "Cadwallader Lord Blayney as Grand Master of the Free Masons," which was engraved, anonymously, in mezzotint.

Thomson became connected with the establishment of the notorious Mrs. Theresa Cornely in Soho Square, where he presided as chairman of a debating society, and also founded a school of oratory which he conducted with more success than reputation. He was author of "An Enquiry into the Elementary Principles of Beauty in the Works of Nature and Art," and also, anonymously, of "The Conduct of the Royal Academicians while members of the Society of Arts from 1760 to their Expulsion in 1769," published in 1771. From his specious address and love of talking he received the nickname of "Blarney" Thomson. He died suddenly in London in 1800.

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