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Clifton Tomson of Nottingham 1775-1828
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Clifton Tomson of Nottingham 1775-1828

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Two springer spaniels putting up a cock pheasant in a wood

 

Oil painting on canvas 14 x 18 inches

 

Signed, inscribed “Nott.m.” and dated 1823

 

Provenance: private collection in Nottinghamshire until acquired by Lane Fine Art in 1983; private collection, Brighton until present

 

Literature: Group-Captain Gerald Pendred Clifton Tomson (1775-1828) A Nottingham Animal and Sporting Artist, published privately by the author, Skopwick, September 1978 in an edition of 500 (illustrated pl. V)

 

Clifton Tomson was born in Nottingham and was baptised in February 1775 at St Mary's church, the son of William and Mary Tomson. His unusual Christian name presumably derives from a relation or Godfather, the likeliest candidate being the man referred to in the “Nottingham Journal” of 1763 as “Mr Clifton Tomson a teacher of French at Mr Baum's, High Pavement”. The artist's parents had married in December 1771: William Tomson refers to himself as “Gentleman”; his new wife Mary, nee Blanchard, was from a commercial family. Inevitably, Tomson Snr seems to have been involved in the predominant trade in Nottingham, as his name appears in the Poll Lists as “frame smith” - a manufacturer of knitting machines for the hosiery-making industry.

 

No evidence of formal artistic training has been discovered, and the naïve nature of his early works is strongly suggestive of Clifton Tomson's being self-taught. He was married at the age of 22 in the Church of St Peter in Nottingham to Grace, nee Brailsford, by whom he had at least nine children in the years 1798-1815. Whilst the details of his early training are obscure, it is clear that by his early 20's he was enjoying an exalted level of patronage. In 1801 he was painting a portrait of “Orville” for Earl FitzWilliam, and the first engravings after his work began to be published in the “Sporting Magazine”. Advertisements for his work appear occasionally in the Nottingham journals in the first two decades of the new century: in 1806 he advertised an “Exhibition of Horse Paintings” at his house in the prosperous Park Street where he lived.

 

Tomson was clearly itinerant throughout this period, and he is noted as travelling as far afield as North Yorkshire, the Midlands and, occasionally, the West Country. In 1806, the Sporting Magazine reported that he had recently undertaken successful commissions in Weymouth. Almost invariably his paintings are inscribed “Nottingham”, even where it is clear that they were not painted in that city.

 

Tomson, “the celebrated animal painter of this town” died at Nottingham on 6th September 1828 aged 53 “leaving an orphan family”, which by this time had shrunk to one surviving son and five surviving daughters. The surviving son, on whom the “four daughters mainly depended”,1 himself died on 15th August 1830. The early death of his four sons, and the straitened circumstances of the remaining daughters, presumably indicates why the artist fell rapidly into obscurity, his reputation only being revived in the late 20th century.

1Nottingham Journal, Saturday 21st August 1830


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