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 (Magnoliabox.com)

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

‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ – Wellesley-Pole & Pistrucci

The Mint with a Pole – Part 3

Intro | Waterloo Medal | Pole & Pistrucci | The Great Re-coinage | Exit & Legacy

pistrucci image 1826 by cf voigt

Benedetto Pistrucci – Would you mess with him?

Wellesley-Pole’s recruitment of Pistrucci for the Royal Mint in 1815 was both a brave and also deeply unpopular decision. These two firebrands came together under a storm of controversy, yet successfully adopted a classic ‘bunker’ mentality to achieve new heights of numismatic brilliance. Benedetto Pistrucci (1783-1855) was born and educated in Rome. At the age of 15, he was placed with the gem-engraver Nicolo Morelli (1771–1830), whose patrons included the Pope and Emperor Napoleon. His talent for carved cameos was quickly evident as he obtained first prize in sculpture from the drawing academy at Campidoglio. Pistrucci remained in Rome until he was in his forties, producing a combination of portrait cameos and engraved gemstones. Hoping to enhance his reputation further Pistrucci moved to France around 1814. But his arrival coincided with Napoleon’s defeat and exile, so he met the Duke of Wellington and his brother Wellesley-Pole rather than the French Emperor (to whom he had hoped to present a cameo). By the time Wellesley-Pole returned to London to become Master of the Mint, Pistrucci was already there causing ripples of disapproval in artistic circles.

2014GW2957

Pistrucci intended this cameo for Napoleon (Paris 1814), but he was ‘Gone Away’

Having spent over a quarter of a century perfecting his skills Pistrucci was supremely confident in his ability and unwilling to reverentially defer to established English artists. In 1815 Pistrucci attended a party at Sir Joseph Banks’ home where a Mr Payne Knight exhibited an engraved gem believed to be an ancient relic, having been purchased some years earlier from Mr Boneli an art dealer from Golden Square. To the astonishment of the assembled guests Pistrucci announced that he had created the gem in his workshop and sold it to Boneli for twenty Roman crowns. This assertion was challenged not only by Boneli (who insisted that Pistrucci had merely polished up an ancient gemstone) but also by several renowned experts present. It was declared that there was ‘no living artist so capable’ as to have manufactured such an item. So Pistrucci offered to make a replica and present it within three months in proof of his claim. He duly delivered a near perfect match, but without the signs of wear and tear evident on the original – and he demanded £50 payment from Payne Knight for his troubles. But Knight refused to pay or to submit both items for independent adjudication.

head of flora

The ‘Head of Flora’ – which Pistrucci claimed to be his own design

So in some circles Pistrucci found himself labelled a forger and a charlatan trying to extort money from a well-known patron of the arts. But all was not lost for he acquired a vital ally in the form of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Banks was the long-serving President of the Royal Society which had a traditionally paternalistic control over the policies and activities of the Royal Mint. Knowing that Wellesley-Pole was looking for an artist to work on designs for the new coinage Banks introduced Pistrucci – but left the final decision wholly with the Master of the Mint.

wellesley pole

Wellesley-Pole looking calm and collected for a change

Wellesley-Pole soon encountered problems when he brought Pistrucci into the Mint. His Italian friend had initially submitted artwork for approval, including the now famous St George and Dragon design. But when chief engraver Thomas Wyon copied Pistrucci’s model he could not match the original. Wellesley-Pole realised he was on to a winner and paid Pistrucci 100 guineas to create the template himself. This caused ill-feeling at the Mint, which worsened after Wyon unexpectedly died. Wellesley-Pole knew no one could replicate Pistrucci’s work, so he backed his man unequivocally. Pistrucci was employed as an engraver for £500 per annum, offering him accommodation at the Mint. Wellesley-Pole acquired Pistrucci’s services on excellent terms considering that the initial contract for 100 guineas only entailed a week’s work. Pistrucci was permitted to augment his pay by carrying out private commissions, and brought his family over from Rome. However he worked up to 18 hours a day at the Mint in these early years, leaving no time for freelance projects. Staff at the Mint resented Pistrucci because he was an alien. Their antipathy lasted decades during which time he was not allowed to be called ‘Chief Engraver’.

On 11th July 1815 Wellesley-Pole invited 12 members at the Royal Academy, including Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Flaxman, and his close friend Joseph Nollekins to submit designs for the Waterloo Medal. The letter clearly stated

This can only be done by the aid of the First Artists belonging to the Royal Academy

flaxman

John Flaxman (1755-1826) – was not deemed good enough by Wellesley-Pole

But when the Royal Academy nominated Flaxman’s design for the larger Waterloo Medal, Pistrucci refused to copy it, declaring that it went against his artistic principles. Instead he submitted his own proposal which was approved by the Regent. The Regent then asked for his portrait by Lawrence to be copied for the obverse face of the medal. But when Wellesley-Pole went to see him at his studio, Pistrucci had turned Lawrence’s painting to face the wall and pointedly refused to comply even when threatened with dismissal. He said he wanted to create the Regent ‘from life’. It was an awkward situation, for Wellesley-Pole had agreed a fee of £3500 for this commission, £2000 of which had already been paid. Additionally, he was over a barrel regarding the new coinage. Remarkably Wellesley-Pole persuaded the Regent to back down, and Pistrucci got his way. The Royal Society was enraged by the Mint’s rejection of Flaxman and Lawrence’s artwork. A senior British Museum antiquary said ‘a more intimate knowledge of the talent that existed in the Kingdom…would have saved [Wellesley-Pole] from the reproach of unnecessarily insulting the whole body of native artists’.

double sovereign

Pistrucci’s iconic St George & Dragon motif – still in use today. Note his initials (bottom right)

To get some idea of the resentment stirred up by Wellesley-Pole’s appointment and dogged support for Pistrucci you only have to look at the press between 1816 and 1819 where numerous anonymous letters lambasted their partnership. Even though the Great Re-coinage was an unqualified success the barbed comments kept coming. For example the Morning Chronicle of October 29th 1818 stated

The execution of the coin of the Realm…[occurred] through the anti-national bad taste of the Master of the Mint shamefully [working] after the designs of the Italian artist.

wwp coin marks

Despite Wellesley-Pole’s private marks being very small and subtle he was likened to Cardinal Wolsey

Wellesley-Pole was delighted to discover ‘I am empowered to place such private mark as I choose [on all coin], and I have chosen my initials…WWP’. The press accused him of ‘smuggling his initials’ onto the new sovereign and they were quick to publish his reply: ‘I shall be impeached for putting my initials on the coin of the realm, as Cardinal Wolsey was for placing a cardinal’s hat on the coin of Henry VIII!’  Such was the level of vitriol probably originating from jealous and resentful members of the Royal Academy that Wellesley-Pole was compelled to make a statement in the House of Commons setting the record straight. Pistrucci fared similarly when exercising his right to leave a mark on designs used in the new coins

Pistrucci the artrist who executed the die for the Crown piece is determined that his name shall be transmitted to posterity. It is engraved at full length on both sides of the coin!! For this specimen of vanity and presumption he has no precedent

Reports on the design of the Double-Sovereign in 1819 reveal the depth of animosity against both men

Mr Pistrucci whose happy knack of making strong likenesses is well known to the British public has presented a faithful resemblance of himself in the cavalier… with a melting pot instead of a helmet. In the beast on which he is mounted the public will recognise… the Master of the Mint differing however from the Grecian charger… by a striking addition to the length of his ears… so that the whole figure on the new coin resembles a jack-ass. [In fact] the initials W.W.P are impressed on his hind-quarters… so Englishmen in future ages will not look at the jack-ass without thinking of Mr Pole.

pistrucci bust

In Pistrucci, Wellesley-Pole found a like-minded character. Both men were hot-headed perfectionists unwilling to compromise in pursuit of their goals. Wellesley-Pole correctly identified Pistrucci as the man to revolutionise British coinage and backed his man to the hilt. But the consequence for both men was an estrangement from the established body of artists, and fellow Mint employees. In fact it was the Mint’s unwillingness to accept Pistrucci as Chief Engraver and their pointed omission of his name from their Red Book that led to the 30+ year delay in Pistrucci delivering the dyes needed to produce the larger Waterloo Medal.  Pistrucci complained long and often that he was promised the role of Chief Engraver by Wellesley-Pole and he genuinely feared that the Mint would cast him aside as soon as he was no longer considered essential.  So he dragged his heels for decades and by the time the dyes were presented only the Duke of Wellington remained alive of the leaders involved in the Battle of Waterloo.

Waterloo-medal-A

Though Pistrucci worked at the Mint until 1849, his most productive and inspirational phase was under Wellesley-Pole’s influence and support – between 1815 and 1820. It is fair to say that both men benefitted from each other’s obstinacy and drive for perfection. No one liked them, but luckily for us, they didn’t care because their collaboration produced coins considered to be ‘the finest that had ever been issued in Europe’.

pistricci work

Example of Pistrucci’s earlier cameo work c.1810

Pistrucci was undoubtedly an essential cog in Wellesley-Pole’s machinery at the Mint, but my next part will focus on the incredible logistical achievement of The Great Re-Coinage in 1817…

Sources Used

  1. Greg Roberts unpublished dissertation ‘The Forgotten Brother’ (2009)
  2. Billing A., Gems, Jewels and Coins (London: Bell and Daldy, 1867)
  3. Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
  4. British Library Add. MSS 39791
  5. Hayward J., Waterloo- The Medal, www.greatwarhistoricalsociety.com
  6. Bagot J., George Canning and Friends (London: Murray, 1909)
  7. Images of Wellesley-Pole marks on coins courtesy of The Royal Mint Museum

In November 2014 it was announced that Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal had finally been struck, nearly 200 years after Wellesley-Pole commissioned it. The medal was presented to representatives of Britain’s allies at the Battle of Waterloo in a ceremony held at Apsley House, The Duke of Wellington’s London home

ceremony

Better late then never- Britain’s allies thanked for Waterloo

To find out more about Pistrucci’s Waterloo Medal visit The Royal Mint Museum

Waterloo 200 organisation will produce 500,000 Waterloo Medal replicas as part of events to mark anniversary of Wellington’s victory

For more information Pistrucci’s famous ‘head of flora’ cameo visit the British Museum

Traditionalists will be pleased to see that the Royal Mint are producing a 2015 Sovereign in which Pistrucci’s mark is clearly visible

To find out what Wellesley-Pole got up to after he left the Mint, watch him go to the dogs or if you want to know more about Wellington’s devotion to his staff you may enjoy Wellington & Raglan