Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – A Recorder of London

T H Shepherd – painted the good, the bad & the ugly of London’s streets

In my previous post I wrote about the tremendous debt Londoners owe to Frederick Crace, whose collection of some 5000 prints, maps and paintings of London and its environs was purchased by the British Museum in 1880. Actively collecting between 1815 and his death in 1859, Crace amassed an cornucopia of scenes encompassing and embracing times of great change in the topography of the city. He particularly excelled in ensuring that soon-to-be demolished buildings were recorded for posterity. Sometimes the doomed structures were depicted in their final dismal state, but others were carefully illustrated as they were in their heydey.

Self-Portrait of Shepherd and his muse: London

This post is about perhaps the most important artist associated with Frederick Crace’s collection, certainly in terms of output, if not by reputation. Crace’s collection contains individual works by legendary artists, such as Paul Sandby or Wenceslaus Hollar, but it is dominated by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, whose 720+ works constitute about 15% of the entire portfolio. Additionally, the British Museum holds almost 300 Shepherd artworks not associated with Frederick Crace. So here we have in just one location over 1000 examples of his works of art:-  the fruits of a very industrious and important artist principally engaged in recording London as it was undergoing huge changes towards modernity.

Tumbledown buildings in Grub Street complete with broken windows c.1840

A quick search on google returns some 192,000 pages linked to Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. But this is entirely down to the wide dissemination of his drawings and watercolours. Very little is recorded about his life and times – and practically no images of the artist himself. When I searched the British Library newspaper archive I found that Shepherd’s death on July 4th 1864 was not reported in the press – indicating that his final years were spent in obscurity. However, I was pleased to discover that Shepherd does have a blue plaque at No 26 Batchelor Street in Islington, so at least he is being commemorated today.

T.H Shepherd’s old stomping ground at Islington Green (1850)

The story of Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in many ways mirrors the life of any struggling painter in the early modern period: i.e. one of dependency upon a patron in order to facilitate one’s career. In the age before consumerism it was common for artist to find favour with a wealthy or influential connoisseur through which they were enabled to thrive. Artists such as Hogarth and Nollekins forged their career in this way. However by the late 1700s a new genre of independently successful artists emerged – most particularly Sir Joshua Reynolds – who were sufficiently renowned to stand on their own merit, and benefitted from a surge in purchasing power from the mercantile and middling classes as Britain underwent rapid industrial change. However, when we look at Thomas Hosmer Shepherd we can see that even by the mid 1800s it was only the very elite artists that were capable of choosing their own commissions and setting their own prices.  For everyone else it was a question of finding favour with clients, meeting their needs, and striving for regular and constant output – without which the spectre of poverty always beckoned. Shepherd’s story of boom and bust parallel’s that of Thomas Hood, of whom I have previously written.

Landmark or no mark: Shepherd always had bystanders

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was born in France on 16 January 1793, the son of a watchcase maker. At this time France was in the throes of revolution, and war was about to break out against a coalition of her neighbouring countries including Britain. So the family hastened home settling in a house near the City Road, in what was then the village of Islington, and Thomas was baptised at St Luke Old Street, on 24 February.

St Luke’s Church, Old Street (

Perhaps Thomas’s most important influence in his early years was older brother George, an artist working in both pencil and watercolours – who began working for Frederick Crace around 1810. By this time young Thomas had already obtained commissions from Rudolph Ackermann, for whom he regularly supplied prints and etchings right up until Ackermann’s magazine The Repository of Arts folded in 1827. The two brothers often worked together on projects as their skills complemented each other – George was very fast with the pencil outline, and Thomas a better finisher. Thomas did very little work for Frederick Crace before 1820 (certainly not that he was credited for) and looked more likely to establish himself independently, as he undertook a series of sketching tours and earned his living in that way. However, it seems that once Thomas settled down and became a father, it became vitally important for him to have a regular workflow – so he gravitated back to employment by others.

George Shepherd was more adept with a pencil than brother Thomas

Thomas married in 1818, spending his honeymoon in France. Somewhat tellingly his first-born son was named Frederick Napoleon Shepherd, perhaps in homage to his nationality and political leanings (in terms of Napoleon) but also crediting his benefactor (Frederick Crace). By 1820, the family lived at 26 Chapman Street (now Batchelor Street), Islington, just west side of Liverpool Road. He used his home address when advertising as a drawing master.

Shepherd’s seemingly mundane images are fascinating for historians

Throughout the 1820s Shepherd worked hard to establish himself as a popular artist, both by touring and contributing to numerous topographical publications. He undertook a series of paintings of Edinburgh, and also worked at Bath and Bristol. But after 1830 his output as an illustrator of books rapidly declined  – possibly due to a change in public demand for such books, as a couple of planned commissions that year never came to fruition – one of which had necessitated a wasted trip to Ireland.

Edinburgh Castle (1829) with obligatory dog and kilts

Shepherd then took a change of direction by exhibiting four watercolours of Scotland at the Society of British Artists, in 1831 and 1832, but as the years passed by he increasingly relied upon Frederick Crace for employment. Luckily for Shepherd, Crace seems to have accelerated his demand for pictures – and work was plentiful right up until Crace died in 1859. In the early 1840s Shepherd moved to 2 Bird’s Buildings (now part of Colebrooke Row), north of Camden Passage, Islington – and he also began contributing images for The Illustrated London News. Shepherd’s final years were spent in poverty, possibly through ill health as old age set in, but more likely as a result of lack of work after Crace passed away. It is sad to think that somebody capable of creating thousands of historically important images of nineteenth century Britain should die unnoticed and unwanted, just as new photographic technology usurped his genuine talent for recording life as it was back then.

Temple Bar (1844) – Streetscene as interesting as the edifice

Shepherd’s style of painting was characterized by an attention to detail towards to subject building or street being depicted, but his scenes often contained people, carriages, horses, or dogs. Thus his collection of paintings gives us an excellent by-product of olde London via the fashions and activities of the people. For example we often see children playing in the streets, and the enduring British love for dogs is more than abundantly represented via a variety of pooches of differing sizes and shapes adorning his works. Whilst it is true that Shepherd’s paintings tend to avoid the filth, smoke, and grinding poverty of London – he doesn’t shy away from decay or of realistic portrayal of slum areas and prisons, which he was commissioned to accurately record. We must remember that his brief was to concentrate upon the buildings  as subjects, and that his only individual artistic outlet was the ability to add by-standers for context and adornment purposes. In his world too, it seldom rains and plants are always in bloom – So we get Dickensian buildings in abundance – without the depressing realism of London as it really must have been.

I hope you will join me on this progressing journey through olde London courtesy of Crace and Shepherd. I have already extensively used their images for my series of postings on Regency Stagecoach Travel and also when relating the story of Wellesley Pole at the Mint

As my series of posts relating to the Crace Collection unfolds, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd will feature heavily. All images used will come directly from the British Museum images database. However, Shepherd’s prints are abundantly held by numerous other public bodies – most notably Kensington and Chelsea Library -which has done a series of excellent posts regarding their own collection, the V&A Museum, the Science Museum, the Government Art Collection, and a small number at the Royal Academy.

Shepherd as a recorder of change: Blackfriars Bridge and Steamship (1848)

Please note that my use of British Museum images in on a non-commercial basis –  my primary intention being to promote the British Museum as a source of reference for all historians. Several times in the past I have paid initial photographic fees to digitise their images for my own use, knowing that once this fee is paid such imagery becomes available to all. I could not recommend use of the British Museum strongly enough, especially if you are looking to source illustrations for publication. In return for obtaining pricelessly detailed high resolution images, you in return get the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to the continued development and protection of this vital resource.

For more information on Thomas Hosmer Shepherd I recommend

  • Brian Reginald Curle and Patricia Meara, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1793-1864, (London: Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, 1973)
  • J F C Phillips, Shepherd’s London, (London: Cassell, 1976)
  • Chris Beetles Gallery has a range of original Thomas Hosmer Paintings for sale as well as an excellently detailed biography
  • On 6th April 2015 Bonhams sold an exquisite collection of Thomas Hosmer Shepherd views of Edinburgh, pencil on paper – with 5 in watercolour for £5625.00

Three to See at the First Georgians Exhibition, Queens Gallery

first georgians

The beauty of going to any exhibition is the fact that each and every item being shown has the power to strike a chord, providing every visitor both a unique and a personal experience.

This fact can be no better demonstrated by going to ‘The First Georgians’ which is on at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until October 12th. Organised to mark the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I, Britain’s first constitutional monarch – this exhibition focusses on works of art collected by the royal family (at various times) dating from 1714 until the death of George II in 1760, what we might describe as the early Georgian era.

 hogarths card

Hogarth’s business card as an engraver – but he was so much more

Fans of William Hogarth (1697-1764) will not be disappointed. His series of six paintings A Harlot’s Progress (1732) & Marriage A La Mode (1743-45) can be seen side-by-side in a section dedicated to perhaps the first exponent of British satirical art.

Seeing Johannes Kip’s incredibly detailed London maps and Canaletto’s overly idyllic views of the Thames from Somerset House was a great pleasure, but for me there are three stand-out exhibits worthy of the admission price alone.

  1. David Garrick and his wife, Eva-Maria Veigel, by William Hogarth (c.1757)


I have always associated Hogarth with the representation of idleness and debauchery via engravings such as Gin Lane (1751) but here we find an almost seaside-postcard style of painting with truly vibrant colours and little nuances of humour encapsulating his subjects perfectly.

David Garrick (1717-79) was one of the most frequently painted subjects in eighteenth-century Britain. He befriended Hogarth after the artist painted Garrick as the King in William Shakespeare’s Richard III in 1745 (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery). But it is thought that the pair fell out over this particular portrait. Garrick was displeased with his likeness and disliked the original domestic setting. Hogarth amended the scene by adding a hanging chord in the background reminiscent of the stage, but Garrick never collected the painting and it was still in Hogarth’s possession when he died in 1764.

What I especially like is the depiction of Veigel sneaking up behind her husband to snatch his pen away. This gives me a sense of the warmth of their relationship, with Garrick’s smile adding further to the playfulness of the scene.

This painting is hung in the main gallery well away from the other Hogarth exhibits, and for this I think it benefits greatly and the style in which it is painted makes it refreshingly timeless.

  1. Thomas Killigrew with an Unidentified Man, by Van Dyck (1638)


This painting really is mesmeric to see in the flesh. Painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) it depicts two figures united by grief. On the left is Thomas Killigrew (1612-83), who is in mourning for his wife Cecelia Crofts, who died in 1638 just two years into the marriage. Killigrew wears his wife’s wedding ring attached to his left wrist by a black silk band. A silver cross inscribed with her intertwined initials is attached to his doublet and he wears a mourning ring next to his wedding band. In his hands is a piece of paper on which there are drawings, possibly made with a funerary monument in mind. Killigrew is being comforted by a friend, but is too distracted by grief to acknowledge what he is being shown.

Such is the incredible clarity of van Dyck’s brushwork that Killigrew really does come to life and his doleful eyes seem to draw you in from far away so you can come and pay your respects. Killigrew’s expression and his long hair would not look out of place on a 1960s hippie, but the sombre tone really does transmit his pain. There are some interesting theories about who the other gentleman may be, but I think the beauty of this painting renders knowing an irrelevance.

  1. Frederick, Prince of Wales, by Amigoni c.1736)


This may seem like an odd choice for my top three, but I have selected it because one of the very knowledgeable curators at the Queen’s Gallery gave a very informative 10-minute talk about it during my visit. Unfortunately she had to compete with a completely ignorant guide who stood at the opposite end of the main gallery talking very loudly to a party of tourists. Given that the guide had ample other points of interest to show her enthusiastic troupe, it was incredibly bad manners for her to blather on whilst the curator bravely soldiered on.

Above all this painting has exposed my ignorance about the Georgian succession. Up until now I have been happily deluding myself that George III was the son of George II and followed him as naturally as princes follow kings. But the fact is that Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) was the man who ought to have succeeded George II, & whose death meant that it was a grandson who became George III in 1760.

Frederick seems to have had a very neglected childhood, having been left back in Hanover at the age of 7, and not seeing his parents for the next 14 years. Not surprisingly his relationship with George II was strained, and he spent his life trying to carve a separate identity. As Prince of Wales he fraternised with opposition politicians and became a patron of the arts. His knowledge and good taste led to the accumulation an outstanding cache of art, which now forms part of the Royal Collection.

Frederick was eventually banned from the King’s court in 1737 after he sneaked his heavily-pregnant wife out of Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night, to ensure that the King and Queen could not be present at the birth. His poor spouse was forced to get into a carriage which raced over to St James’s Palace just in time for the birth. The King and Queen were furious at this perceived snub and never forgave Frederick for this act of independence.

This portrait by Amigoni was commissioned by the Prince’s friend, George Bubb Dodington (1691-1762), & given to Frederick as a peace-offering following a spat between them. As is appropriate for a friend’s portrait the Prince appears in an informal and affable guise, as patron of the arts. Frederick holds a book inscribed ‘Pope’s Homer’, alluding to Pope’s famous recently-published translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Cherubs fly above the Prince holding a lyre (the attribute of Poetry) and a snake biting its tail (the attribute of Eternity, the duration of a true poet’s fame).

Though his pose is relaxed, the Prince does have formal attributes: a crown on the table, and a riband of the Garter reminding us that this is not just any patron of the arts but a heroic and a royal one.

Frederick certainly seems a character worthy of greater investigation, not just for his contribution to the development of the arts, but also for his love of English culture. Whenever you next hear ‘Rule Britannia’ spare a thought for our lost King for it was Frederick, Prince of Wales whose patronage brought this song into creation.

Because I am really more of a Regency historian, I have shamelessly pillaged the Royal Collection website for background information on these great works of art. Any errors made are all mine though.

If you have been or are considering going to the First Georgians Exhibition I’d love to hear back regarding the works of art you found most compelling – As I have a free return voucher and it would be great to look from another perpective!!

Click Here for more info and facts on the First Georgians Exhibition:

The peerless Lucy Worsley has made a BBC4 TV show about the current exhibition

If you liked this you may like the following excellent Georgian era  Blogs:

Jacqueline Riding is a fountain of knowledge on Georgian art amongst other skills

Who could resist the legend that is Madame Gilflurt 

The British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies promotes all things Georgian

And finally, partly because Ireland is steeped in Georgian era culture, and partly because Frederick, Prince of Wales served as the tenth Chancellor of the University of Dublin (1728-51), I would recommend a visit to the Irish Georgian Society  – Me being Irish might have had a hand in this too.