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Thomas Heaphy
Nationality: 
english
Gender: 
Male
Birth Date: 
1775
Birth Place: 
London
Death Date: 
1835
Death Place: 
London
British painter Thomas Heaphy was renowned for his watercolor genre scenes and his portraits, particularly a group portrait of the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1769-1852) and his officers. Born in London in 1775, Heaphy was apprenticed to a dyer at a young age, but given his talent for drawing his apprenticeship was transferred to the engraver Robert Mitchell Meadows (d. bef. 1812). Heaphy also studied at the Bloomsbury Drawing School of John Boyne (ca. 1750-1810) and at the Schools of the Royal Academy of Arts. He first exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Academy in 1797, with oil portraits, and continued to exhibit oil portraits through 1803. Heaphy established a reputation as a portrait painter and was appointed Portrait Painter to the Princess of Wales (Caroline of Brunswick, 1768-1821, later Queen Consort) in 1803. Heaphy expanded his repertoire to subject paintings in watercolors, particular scenes of markets, still lifes of game, and lower-class comic scenes. Heaphy became as associate member of the recently-formed Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1806, and exhibited in the Society’s shows until his resignation in 1812. The watercolor in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums, “Still Life with Rabbits and Mallard in a Basket,” dates from 1806. One of his watercolors, “Hastings Fish Market” (1808, location unknown) was exhibited the following year and sold for the astounding sum of 450 guineas. While these works were highly praised by some criticsand sold for high prices, others disliked some of his depictions of gamblers, beggars and other disagreeable subjects. One critic, William Henry Pyne (1769-1843), wrote in the “Somerset House Gazette” of 1824 that Heaphy’s works “were disgusting to good feeling and repulsive to delicate sentiment.” (Quoted in Whitley, p. 13.) He continued with his portrait practice, painting a watercolor portrait of the Duke of Wellington in 1810. In 1812 he was invited by Wellington to accompany the British Army to Spain during the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Heaphy produced numerous portraits and began creating his large group portrait, “The Duke of Wellington in Consultation with his Officers Previous to a General Engagement” (Newcastle upon Tyne: Laing Art Gallery), which he finished in 1816 after his return to London. It includes about fifty portraits of Wellington and his officers. An engraving after Heaphy’s painting, intended to be very profitable, was not published until 1822, and was not a financial success. He continued painting portraits, including portrait sketches of Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817) (1815, London: National Portrait Gallery) and Prince Leopold II (1796-1851, later King of the Belgians) (1816, London: National Portrait Gallery). Around the time of publication of the Wellington engraving Heaphy became a real estate speculator and developer in the St. John’s Wood area of London, but gave up and returned to art. He showed fourteen works in the inaugural exhibition of the Society of British Artists in 1824 and became the Society’s first president, but found he had lost much of his former prowess. He traveled to Italy to copy Old Masters in 1831, returning home the next year. He died at home in London in 1835. Apparently a man of many parts, an obituary appearing in “The Gentleman’s Magazine” in December 1835, described Heaphy as a man whose “talent was by no means exclusively confined to art; he was equally at home, if quarrying for stone, or constructing a pleasure-boat, or building a house, or devising an improved axle, or laying down a railway.” (TNB 7/2015) Selected bibliography: Goldyne, Joseph R. “Thomas Heaphy” in Robert Flynn Johnson and Joseph R. Goldyne in Master Drawings from the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Exhibition catalog. Geneva: Richard Burton, S.A. and San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1985. O'Donoghue, F. M. “‘Heaphy, Thomas (1775–1835),” rev. Huon Mallalieu, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007. Urban, Sylvanus. “Thomas Heaphy, Esq.,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 4, New Series (December 1835), p. 661. Whitley, William T. Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835): First President of the Society of British Artists. London: The Royal Society of British Artists’ Art Club, 1933.