Thomson, William John

Date and place of birth:
c 1771, Georgia, USA
Date and place of death:
24 March 1845, Edinburgh
(fl) 1807-1843
Known places of work:
Known techniques:
Painted on card
Known materials:


William John Thomson was a very accomplished portrait miniaturist, who declined an offer of a knighthood in his lifetime. However, it not believed he was also a silhouette artist, until a single silhouette with a trade label reading “Painted by W.J. Thomson, 212, Piccadilly, March” was discovered. As this is the same address as a Thomson portrait painted March 1807, it can be assumed he produced silhouettes, if only as a sideline.

Thomson was born in Georgia in the USA. He migrated to England with his father during the War of Independence and settled in Edinburgh, marrying in 1797. He certainly spent time in London where he is known to have exhibited at the British Institute, the Old Water Colour Society, the Associated Artists and the Society of British Artists. Thomson returned to Edinburgh in 1812 where he continued to exhibit his work. His work at this stage of his career consisted of mainly portrait miniatures, portraits, landscapes and genre subjects. There is no evidence of any silhouettes painted after Thomson left London.

The single silhouette attributed to Thomson has some notable features. There is sharpness at the terminating points of the bust and at the edge of the sitter’s collar, and great detail in the sitter’s long, thin eyelashes. The silhouette depicts an unknown man and is framed in a locket. Thomson’s miniatures are very collectable today, with a number in private collections. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London also displays one, as does the Kunstgewerbe Museum in Dresden.

Additional research about William John Thomson:

Source: McKechnie (Author of, British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860)

Thomson, William John (McKechnie Section 5)