Thomson, William John - portrait of a lady

Painted around 1820 is this miniature of an attractive young lady which has been attributed to William John Thomson (1771-1845).

Normally he signed the backing paper and sometimes added the name of the sitter. In this instance the backing paper is missing. Unfortunately, the probable reason for this is that at some stage the miniature was sold by a descendant who was embarrassed about selling the miniature with their ancestor's name on the reverse and so removed the backing paper.

Although the portrait was painted in Edinburgh, Scotland, Thomson was born in the United States in Savannah, Georgia and has therefore been classified as an American artist in this collection.

Most of Thomson's earlier like this portrait are oval, however as this one is oval on a rectangular plaque, it may mark his transition to a rectangular style as the fashions for miniatures changed. He tended to show a sitter with a solemn expression, but this young lady has a hint of a smile.

Attribution is assisted by a comparison of his style. In this miniature, as well as in another one signed by him and dated 1820 in this collection, and shown here for comparison, Thomson painted the irises, within the eyes, as inverted crescent moons, and without an obvious fleck of white to show the light reflection commonly seen in most paintings of eyes. The differing background colours for the two miniatures are probably intended to complement the differing colours of the sitters' eyes.

Thomson's father was a Government official who lost his position after the War of Independence and then retired to England on a small pension.

Thomson learned to paint portraits and miniatures in London but later moved to Edinburgh. There he married Helen Colhoun on 12 May 1797, He exhibited many times and was recognised as an accomplished artist. He became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1829 and was even offered a knighthood, but this was declined.

Comparison of the colour and method of painting the dress for this miniature is also helpful in making an attribution, as it is quite similar to the other signed miniature of a young lady.

The sitter is unknown. 1276

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