Thomas Uwins

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The Henry VII chapel (1812 engraving) Uwins - Henry the Seventh chapel.jpg
The Henry VII chapel (1812 engraving)

Thomas Uwins RA RWS (24 February 1782 in London 26 August 1857) was a British portrait, subject, genre and landscape painter (in watercolour and oil), and a book illustrator. He became a full member of the Old Watercolour Society and a Royal Academician, and held a number of high-profile art appointments including librarian of the Royal Academy, Surveyor of Pictures to Queen Victoria and Keeper of the National Gallery. [1] [2] [3]

Royal Watercolour Society Society of Painters in Water Colours founded in 1804 by William Frederick Wells

The Royal Watercolour Society is an English institution of painters working in watercolours. The Royal Watercolour Society is a centre of excellence for water-based media on paper, which allows for a diverse and interesting range of approaches to the medium of watercolour. The Society's offices are at Bankside Gallery in London.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Portrait painting Genre in painting, where the intent is to depict a specific human subject

Portrait painting is a genre in painting, where the intent is to represent a specific human subject. The term 'portrait painting' can also describe the actual painted portrait. Portraitists may create their work by commission, for public and private persons, or they may be inspired by admiration or affection for the subject. Portraits are often important state and family records, as well as remembrances.


Life and work

Early years and training

Portrait of Sir William Gell (1832 engraving) Uwins - Sir William Gell.jpg
Portrait of Sir William Gell (1832 engraving)

Uwins was born at Hermes Hill, Pentonville in London, the youngest of the four children of Thomas Uwins, a clerk in the Bank of England. David Uwins (c. 1780-1837), physician and medical writer, was his elder brother. Thomas showed talent as an artist from an early age, and had some instruction from the drawing-master at his sister's school. He was a day scholar at Mr. Crole's school in Queen's Head Lane, Islington, for 6 years, and in 1797, at the age of 15, was apprenticed to the engraver Benjamin Smith (d. 1833). While with Smith he engraved part of a plate for John Boydell's editions of 'Shakespeare' but had an attack of jaundice, said to have been caused by overwork and dislike of the drudgery of engraving, and left without completing the apprenticeship.

Pentonville Central London area located north-northeast of Charing Cross

Pentonville is an area on the northern fringe of Central London, in the London Borough of Islington. It is located 1.75 miles (2.82 km) north-northeast of Charing Cross on the Inner Ring Road. Pentonville developed in the northwestern edge of the ancient parish of Clerkenwell on the New Road. It is named from Henry Penton, the developer of the area.

Bank of England Central bank of the United Kingdom

The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Established in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker, and still one of the bankers for the Government of the United Kingdom, it is the world's eighth-oldest bank. It was privately owned by stockholders from its foundation in 1694 until it was nationalised in 1946.

David Uwins was an English physician and medical writer.

In 1798, Uwins entered the schools of the Royal Academy, London, and joined Sir Charles Bell's anatomical class, supporting himself mainly by painting portrait miniature. He exhibited a portrait of a "Mr. G. Meyers" at the academy in 1799. He also - now or later - gave lessons in drawing, and about 1808 began to design frontispieces and vignettes to Thomas Day's "The History of Sandford and Merton", 'Robinson Crusoe' and others, for J. Walker of Paternoster Row. He also designed for bookseller Thomas Tegg (1776–1845), drew engravers' outlines for Charles Warren the engraver, and produced work for Rudolph Ackermann's 'Repository of Fashions' for which he also wrote articles signed 'Arbiter Elegantiarum'. One of his drawings exhibited at the academy in 1808 was a portrait of Charles Warren's daughter, Mrs. Luke Clennell, as Belphoebe in Spenser's 'Faerie Queene'.

Portrait miniature very small painting

A portrait miniature is a miniature portrait painting, usually executed in gouache, watercolor, or enamel. Portrait miniatures developed out of the techniques of the miniatures in illuminated manuscripts, and were popular among 16th-century elites, mainly in England and France, and spread across the rest of Europe from the middle of the 18th century, remaining highly popular until the development of daguerreotypes and photography in the mid-19th century. They were usually intimate gifts given within the family, or by hopeful males in courtship, but some rulers, such as James I of England, gave large numbers as diplomatic or political gifts. They were especially likely to be painted when a family member was going to be absent for significant periods, whether a husband or son going to war or emigrating, or a daughter getting married.

Book frontispiece illustration facing a books title page

A frontispiece in books is a decorative or informative illustration facing a book's title page—on the left-hand, or verso, page opposite the right-hand, or recto, page. While some books depict thematic elements, other books feature the author's portrait as the frontispiece. In medieval illuminated manuscripts, a presentation miniature showing the book or text being presented was often used as a frontispiece.

Vignette (graphic design) in graphic design, a unique form for a frame to an image, either illustration or photograph

A vignette, in graphic design, is a unique form for a frame to an image, either illustration or photograph. Rather than the image's edges being rectilinear, it is overlaid with decorative artwork featuring a unique outline. This is similar to the use of the word in photography, where the edges of an image that has been vignetted are non-linear or sometimes softened with a mask – often a darkroom process of introducing a screen. An oval vignette is probably the most common example.

Watercolour Society and travels to France

Illustration to George Herbert's "Mattens" (1834 engraving) Uwins - Mattens.jpg
Illustration to George Herbert's "Mattens" (1834 engraving)

In 1809 Uwins joined the "Old Watercolour Society" as associate member, and in 1813 became a full member. From 1809 to 1818 he was a constant contributor to the society's exhibitions, sending illustrations of works by Henry Fielding, John Bunyan, Shakespeare, Laurence Sterne, and other authors, besides numerous pastoral scenes and figures. He served as secretary of the society in 181314 and 181617. In 1811 he stayed at Farnham, Surrey, studying the hopfields, and in 1815 visited the Lake District, where he met Wordsworth.

Henry Fielding English novelist and dramatist

Henry Fielding was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich, earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the picaresque novel Tom Jones. Additionally, he holds a significant place in the history of law enforcement, having used his authority as a magistrate to found what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners. His younger sister, Sarah, also became a successful writer.

John Bunyan English Christian writer and preacher

John Bunyan was an English writer and Puritan preacher best remembered as the author of the Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress. In addition to The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons.

Laurence Sterne Irish/English writer

Laurence Sterne was an Irish novelist and an Anglican clergyman. He wrote the novels The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, and also published many sermons, wrote memoirs, and was involved in local politics. Sterne died in London after years of fighting tuberculosis.

In 1817, after the Napoleonic wars, he went to France to paint vintage scenes. He stayed for a short while at Paris, and, provided with letters of introduction, passed through the Burgundy country to Bordeaux, where he stayed with the Cabareuss family, and visited the chateaux of all the principal growers. The result was seen in two drawings sent to the 'Old Watercolour' Society's exhibition of 1818. Some of his sketches later became the basis for the oil painting The Vintage (1847; Tate, London). [4]

France Republic in Europe with several non-European regions

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

Bordeaux Prefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne in the Gironde department in Southwestern France.

Life in Scotland

In 1818 Uwins resigned from the Old watercolour society to concentrate on paying off a debt relating to a security given to the Society of Arts. Continual work on miniatures seriously injured his eyesight, and in 1820 he went to Scotland to make topographical drawings to illustrate works by Sir Walter Scott, with whom he became well acquainted. He spent two years in Edinburgh painting and drawing portraits with much success, and on the occasion of the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, be executed two transparencies, one of which was twelve feet high.

Scotland Country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Walter Scott 18th/19th-century Scottish historical novelist, poet and playwright

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

Seven years in Italy

In 1824 Uwins travelled to Italy for his health. There he settled for the winter in Rome where he met a number of English artists, including Charles Eastlake and Joseph Severn. The following spring he visited Naples and met Richard Acton who commissioned him to paint a number of Italian scenes. He remained in Naples for several years painting portraits of British and Austrian visitors. While in Italy he kept up a correspondence with his two brothers Zechariah and David, which was published after his death in A memoir of Thomas Uwins. [5]

From 182930 Uwins sent his pictures of Italian subjects to the exhibitions of the British Institution and Royal Academy. In 1830 he exhibited "Neapolitans dancing the Tarantella", and, in 1832, The Neapolitan Saint Manufactury proved a great success in the RA exhibition. At about this time he returned to England and became gradually more involved in arts administration. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) in 1833, and a full academician (RA) in 1838.

Later work

In 1839 he exhibited one of his best pictures, Le Chapeau de Brigand. [6] The little girl depicted was a daughter of a friend named Joseph, with whom he lived for some time. In 1843 he painted a fresco of the lady in John Milton's 'Comus' for the Queen's Pavilion in Buckingham Palace Gardens. In 1844 he was made librarian of the Royal Academy, and Surveyor of pictures to Queen Victoria (completing the first catalogue raisonné of the Royal Collection), and from 184755, keeper of the National Gallery - succeeding Sir Charles Eastlake.

In 1850 he married Sarah Kirby, and though without issue, the union was said to be a happy one. In 1854 he had a serious illness, and in 1855 gave up his various offices and retired to Staines, in Middlesex, an invalid. He carried on painting, however, until his death on 26 August 1857.

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  1. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Uwins, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 58. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 79–80.
  2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  3. Biography (
  4. Works by Unwins (Tate Collection, London).
  5. Sarah Uwins, vol. 2, p 3 ff. (1858).
  6. Le Chapeau de brigand [ permanent dead link ] (Tate Collection).

Further reading

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Richard Redgrave
Surveyor of the King's / Queen's Pictures
Succeeded by
Sir Augustus Wall Callcott
Preceded by
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake
Keeper of the National Gallery
Succeeded by
Ralph Nicholson Wornum