Heaphy, Thomas (1775-1835) (DNB00)

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HEAPHY, THOMAS, the elder (1775–1835), water-colour painter, was born in London on 29 Dec. 1775. His father, John Gerrard Heaphy, had a somewhat romantic history, having been born on a battle-field where his father was killed; the latter was the eldest son of a nobleman, and had contracted a runaway match with a daughter of an Irish clergyman named Heaphy, but the legality of the marriage being subsequently contested, the matter was compromised by a provision being made for the widow and for the education of the child, who was required to take his mother's name. John Gerrard Heaphy married a French lady, and engaged in mercantile pursuits. His son Thomas, evincing a great love for drawing, was articled at an early age to R. M. Meadows, the engraver, but his inclination was rather to painting than engraving; to this he devoted all his spare time, and attended a drawing-school conducted by John Boyne near Queen Square, Bloomsbury. He exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy in 1797, and until 1804 his contributions were exclusively portraits, but in that year he sent a subject picture, ‘The Portland Fish Girl.’ Subsequently he turned his attention to water-colour painting, to which he from that time confined himself, and became a large contributor to the exhibitions of the newly formed Water-colour Society, then held in Spring Gardens, where his representations of fish markets and other scenes of working-class life were extremely popular. In 1807 he became an associate of the society, and in the same year a full member; his ‘Hastings Fish Market,’ exhibited in 1809, sold for five hundred guineas. He now returned to portraiture, which he practised with great success, and was for some years more largely employed than perhaps any other artist except Sir Thomas Lawrence; he was appointed portrait-painter to the Princess of Wales; Princess Charlotte, Prince Leopold, and other distinguished persons sat to him. In 1812, giving up his membership of the Water-colour Society, he betook himself, at the invitation of the Duke of Wellington, to the British camp in the Peninsula, where he remained until the end of the war, painting the portraits of the English officers, and on his return executed his most important work, a representation of the Duke of Wellington giving his orders previous to a general action, which comprised portraits of about fifty general officers. An engraving from this, commenced by Anker Smith and finished by Heaphy himself, was published by him in 1822. Though the picture was a direct commission from the king, it appears to have remained on the artist's hands, as it figured in the sale of his effects.

Heaphy devoted much of his fortune to utilising the land in the neighbourhood of the present Regent's Park for building purposes, and thus a portion of St. John's Wood owes its origin to him. This took him temporarily away from his profession, on resuming which he projected and established the Society of British Artists, of which he was elected the first president, and to its first exhibition, in 1824, contributed nine works, but he resigned his membership the following year. In 1831 he went to Italy, where he remained until the middle of the following year, and during his residence there made some admirable copies of famous pictures by the old masters. After his return to England he painted little. He died at 8 St. John's Wood Road, 23 Oct. 1835, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. His first wife, Mary Stevenson, to whom he was married in 1800, died some time after 1820; his second, Harriet Jane Mason, survived him.

Heaphy's subject pictures were realistic representations of nature. His miniatures and other portraits, which were usually on a small scale, were characterised by truthfulness, delicacy of colour, and beauty of finish. He was a man of versatile genius, and devoted much attention to mechanical inventions. Though it is stated that he was always opposed to the Royal Academy, the catalogues show that he contributed to its exhibitions up to the end of his life. The South Kensington Museum possesses two of his water-colours, ‘The Sore Leg’ and ‘Coast Scene with Figures,’ and in the National Portrait Gallery is a youthful portrait of Lord Palmerston; his portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch have been engraved.

Heaphy had by his first wife two sons, Thomas [q. v.] and Charles [q. v.], and three daughters, two of whom, Mary Ann (Mrs. Musgrave) and Elizabeth (Mrs. Murray), practised miniature-painting.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Athenæum, No. 418, 31 Oct. 1835; Magazine of the Fine Arts, iii. 223; Gent. Mag. 1835, pt. ii. p. 661; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Royal Academy Catalogues; information from the family.]

F. M. O'D.