The Times/1868/Obituary/George Housman Thomas
The Late George Housman Thomas.–A good artist has passed away from us, whose name and memory should be preserved, and who will take a high place among the artists of our country. George H. Thomas was born in the city of London on the 7th of December, 1824. He was educated at Dr. Lord's, Trowbridge, near Bath, and apprenticed at an early age to George Bonner, the wood engraver. As soon as he had learnt his art he went to Paris and set up in that city as a wood engraver. At the same time, he commenced work as an illustrator of books, and his productions attracted the notice of some Americans, by whom he was engaged to go to New York to illustrate a newspaper. He remained there two years—1846-47—and obtained employment as a designer of American banknotes, many of which are ornamented with engravings of very great merit; indeed, some of his drawings for these notes are among the most finished and graceful ever executed by him. Ill health obliged him to return to England, where he found employment as one of the principal draughtsmen on the Illustrated London News. In 1848 he visited Italy in order to complete his education as a painter, and furnished the Illustrated News with those vivid sketches of the principal episodes of the siege of Rome which graced its pages. We believe it was these drawings which first attracted the attention of Her Majesty to the artist, and from about the year 1854 he was continually employed by the Queen to commemorate the principal events of the time, in which the Queen or the Royal family were the chief actors, and this, not only by the production of many important oil paintings, such as the Queen distributing Crimean medals to the soldiers in St. James's Park, and the Queen and Prince Consort at Aldershott (now at the Leeds Exhibition), but by a series of sketches in pencil and water-colour, which form an album of great value, belonging to Her Majesty, to which his wonderful power of expressing character and his great delicacy of execution were peculiarly adapted. As a designer of illustrated books he had few rivals, and his invention was as varied as his drawing was spirited and correct. His chef-d’oeuvre of this class was, perhaps, Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which his delineations of negro life, of Uncle Tom, Topsy, and others were most admirable, and in this work no doubt his sojourn in the States was of the highest service to him. His sketches also in pencil were perfectly marvellous for their delicacy and freedom of touch and extraordinary truth to nature; no photograph could be truer, so that his small portraits in pencil and crayon were among the most remarkable of their class, and we believe that had he pursued this branch of art he would have been facile princeps among all competitors. But an accident numbed his powers, and shortened his career. A fall from his horse, by which he suffered concussion of the brain, produced disastrous results from which he never recovered, and which finally, though indirectly, led to his early death. Still, he worked on without ceasing. He was industry itself. If to labour is to pray, then indeed, his whole life was one continuous prayer and act of worship. His own nature led to this, and the demands which a large family made upon him strengthened him in it. To this was added a modesty, a thorough goodness of heart, and a tolerant charity of others which endeared him to all who had the advantage of his friendship. The best works he executed in oil were The Ball at the Camp of Boulogne, purchased by Mr. Lucas, the contractor; Rotten-row, a most characteristic picture, belonging to the same owner, and we may here observe that Mr. Thomas was one of the best delineators of horses we have ever had: The Review at the Champ de Mars, Paris, by Her Majesty the Queen and the Emperor Napoleon; The Coronation of the King of Prussia; The Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales; The Queen and Prince Consort at Aldershott; The Queen giving medals to the Crimean Heroes; The Queen bestowing the Order of the Garter on the Sultan, all painted expressly for Her Majesty, besides numerous others of almost equal value. His last pictures in this year's Academy Exhibition were Apple-blossom and Masterless, which gave no indication of failing power; but continued ill-health, overwork, and, perhaps, anxiety for his large family were telling on a constitution naturally delicate. He went to Boulogne with his wife and children to recruit his health, but was destined never to return alive; he died there on the 21st of July last.