Exquisite portraits before photography

From 1829 to 1838 Welsh artist, Thomas George, exhibited five works (mainly miniature portraits) at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
According to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, he was born in Fishguard in 1790 and had moved to Haverfordwest by 1824, from where he painted portraits of the Harries family of Tregwynt, in north Pembrokeshire. By 1826 he was working in London, and according to a Western Mail article by H.M.Vaughan from September 1927, was living at 10 Howland Street, off Tottenham Court Road. This article also states that Thomas’s name appeared in the list of those holding Royal Appointments. The Victoria & Albert Museum holds a miniature on ivory of Richard Bird, signed by T George, London Oct. 1826.

In the monumental publication “The Visual Culture of Wales” from University of Wales Press 2000, edited by Peter Lord, a paragraph on page 181 is devoted to Thomas George, and shows three of his paintings. It mentions that Thomas’s father, James, was a watch and clock maker, and his earliest recorded works were portraits of the Leach family of Milford Haven in 1819. In London, Thomas mixed in Welsh circles and came to know “social luminary” William Owen Pughe and engraver Hugh Hughes.

The Western Mail article also tells us that Thomas’s promising career was cut-short by consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis), when he quit England for Madeira, where he died in 1840 aged 50. Apparently, by 1927 several of the artist’s works had been collected by Sir Evan Jones, Bart., of Pentower, Fishguard. Henry George, brother of the artist, who lived in Fishguard, also owned an early self-portrait of Thomas, showing his “soft brown eyes beneath a mass of curly auburn hair”.
A letter from I.J. Williams to the same Western Mail edition, reveals that several miniature paintings by Thomas George were exhibited at City Hall, Cardiff in 1914 and at Haverfordwest “Pembrokeshire Education Week” in 1925.

We know nothing of Thomas’s education or training and it seems that this artist’s legacy has faded in Wales; to be restored only by somehow revealing his full range of work in creating exquisite miniatures, prior to the age of photography.

Six portraits by Thomas George are included here; Fig. 1- 3 held by the National Museum of Wales (NMW).  A recent on-line auction yielded two more portraits by Thomas George Fig. 4 & 5.  Fig.6 is held by the V & A.

Fig 1. Self portrait of the artist, according to NMW.
Fig 2. Portrait of a man, according to NMW.
Self portrait of the artist, according to Peter Lord.
Fig 3. Portrait of a lady, according to NMW.
Fig 4. Catherine Lloyd 1808-1879
Fig 5. Edmund Lloyd 1796 – 1855
Fig 6. Richard Bird 1802 -1842   (painted 1826)

Images 4 & 5 each measure 78 x 68 cm

Catherine Lloyd’s attractive tartan sash derived from her father Joseph Hume whose clan estates lay in Berwickshire in SE Scotland. She and Edmund married in May 1833 in St Pancras, London, when the portraits may well have been commissioned.


See also James George clock and watchmaker

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