Thomas Phillips, was a leading English portrait and subject painter. He painted many of the great men of the day including scientists, artists, writers, poets and explorers.
Having learnt glass-painting in Birmingham under Francis Eginton, he visited London in 1790 with an introduction to Benjamin West, who found him employment on the painted-glass windows of St George’s Chapel at Windsor. In 1791 he became a student at the Royal Academy, where, in 1792 he exhibited a view of Windsor Castle.
After 1796, he concentrated on portrait-painting. However, the field was very crowded with the likes of John Hoppner, William Owen, Thomas Lawrence and Martin Archer Shee competing for business; consequently, from 1796 to 1800, his exhibited works were chiefly portraits of gentlemen and ladies, often nameless in the catalogue and of no great importance, historically speaking.
In 1804 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, together with his rival, William Owen. In 1807 he sent to the Royal Academy the well-known portrait of William Blake, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which was engraved in line by Luigi Schiavonetti, and later etched by William Bell Scott.
His contributions to the Academy exhibition of 1809 included a portrait of Sir Joseph Banks (engraved by Niccolo Schiavonetti), and to that of 1814, two portraits of Lord Byron . In 1818 he exhibited a portrait of Sir Francis Chantrey, and in 1819, one of the poet George Crabbe. In 1825 he was elected professor of painting at the Royal Academy, succeeding Henry Fuseli, and, in order to qualify himself for his duties, visited Italy and Rome.
Phillips also painted portraits of Walter Scott, Robert Southey, George Anthony Legh Keck (1830), Thomas Campbell (poet), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Henry Hallam, Mary Somerville, Sir Edward Parry, Sir John Franklin, Dixon Denham, the African traveller, and Hugh Clapperton.
Besides these he painted two portraits of Sir David Wilkie, the Duke of York, Dean William Buckland, Sir Humphry Davy, Samuel Rogers, Michael Faraday, John Dalton, and a head of Napoleon I, painted in Paris in 1802, not from actual sittings, but with Empress Josephine’s consent, who afforded him opportunities of observing the First Consul while at dinner.
Phillips died at 8 George Street, Hanover Square, London, on 20 April 1845, and was interred in the burial-ground of St. John’s Wood chapel.