Thompson, John (1785-1866) (DNB00)

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THOMPSON, JOHN (1785–1866), wood-engraver, son of Richard Thompson, a London merchant, was born at Manchester on 25 May 1785. He learned his art from Allen Robert Branston [q. v.], and became the most distinguished wood-engraver of his time. In the early part of his career he was specially associated with John Thurston [q. v.], by whom he was very beneficially influenced, and about nine hundred of whose designs he engraved, including those for Dibdin's ‘London Theatre,’ 1814–18; Fairfax's ‘Tasso,’ 1817; Puckle's ‘Club,’ 1817; and Butler's ‘Hudibras,’ 1818. In 1818 he produced his largest cut, the diploma of the Highland Society, from a design by Benjamin West. Among the innumerable book illustrations which he subsequently executed, the most noteworthy are those in Singer's edition of Shakespeare, 1826 (after Harvey, Stothard, and Corbould); ‘Mornings at Bow Street’ and ‘Beauties of Washington Irving’ (after George Cruikshank); Rogers's ‘Italy,’ 1828 (after Stothard and Landseer); Goldsmith's ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ 1843 (after Mulready); Bürger's ‘Leonora,’ 1847 (after Maclise); ‘Sir Roger de Coverley,’ 1850 (after Frederick Tayler); and Moxon's edition of Tennyson, 1857. His latest work was the ‘Death of Dundee,’ from a design by Sir Noel Paton, for Aytoun's ‘Lays of the Cavaliers,’ 1863. In 1839 he cut in relief on brass Mulready's design for the penny postage envelope, and in 1852 executed on steel the figure of Britannia which still appears on the Bank of England notes. Thompson's work was much appreciated in France, and he was for many years extensively employed by the Paris publishers upon the designs of Grandville, Ary Scheffer, Tony Johannot, P. Delaroche, Horace Vernet, and other popular book illustrators; at the Paris exhibition of 1855 he was awarded the grand medal of honour for wood engraving. He received, but declined, an invitation from the government of Prussia to settle in that country. From 1852 to 1859 he superintended the female school of wood engraving at South Kensington, and in 1853 delivered a course of valuable lectures on the subject to the students. Thompson was perhaps the ablest exponent that has ever lived of the style of wood engraving which aimed at rivalling the effect of copper, and his cuts in Fairfax's ‘Tasso’ and Puckle's ‘Club’ may be instanced as supreme triumphs of the art. For about fifty years he stood at the head of his profession, and, vast as was the amount of work he produced during that period, he never allowed it to become mechanical or degenerate into a manufacture. He died at South Kensington on 20 Feb. 1866, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. By his wife, Harriott Eaton, to whom he was married in 1807, he had two sons, Charles Thurston Thompson (noticed below) and Richard Anthony Thompson, who was, until 1892, an assistant director of the South Kensington Museum, and survives.

Charles Thompson (1791–1843), engraver, younger brother of John Thompson, born in London in 1791, was a pupil of John Bewick [q. v.] and Allen Robert Branston, and became an able wood-engraver. In 1816 he was induced to settle in Paris, where he executed the illustrations to many fine publications. His work was much admired, and in 1824 he was awarded a gold medal. Thompson introduced into France the English method of working on the end of the wood instead of in the direction of the grain, and using the graver instead of the knife. He died at Bourg-la-Reine, near Paris, on 19 May 1843, and his widow was granted a pension by the French government.

Charles Thurston Thompson (1816–1868), engraver and photographer, son of John Thompson, was born at Peckham, London, on 28 July 1816. He was trained to his father's profession, and for some years practised wood-engraving with success; but after the 1851 exhibition, in the organisation of which he was actively engaged, he took up the new art of photography, and subsequently became the official photographer to the South Kensington Museum. He did much excellent work in reproducing drawings and other works of art in this country, and for the same purpose paid visits to France, Spain, and Portugal. He died in Paris after a short illness, on 22 Jan. 1868, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

[Art Journal, 1866; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Linton's Masters of Wood Engraving; private information.]

F. M. O'D.