Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tomkins, Peltro William
TOMKINS, PELTRO WILLIAM (1759–1840), engraver and draughtsman, was born in London in 1759 (baptised 15 Oct.). He was younger son of William Tomkins (1730?–1792), landscape-painter, by his wife Susanna Callard.
In 1763 the father gained the second premium of the Society of Arts for a landscape, and subsequently, through the patronage of Edward Walter of Stalbridge, obtained considerable employment in painting views, chiefly of scenery in the north and west of England. He imitated the manner of Claude, many of whose works, as well as those of some of the Dutch painters, he also copied. He exhibited with the Free Society of Artists from 1761 to 1764, with the Incorporated Society from 1764 to 1768, and at the Royal Academy annually from 1769 to 1790. He was elected an associate of the academy in 1771. Some of Tomkins's works were engraved in Angus's and Watts's sets of views of seats of the nobility. He died at his house in Queen Anne Street, London, on 1 Jan. 1792.
The younger son, Peltro, became one of the ablest pupils of Francesco Bartolozzi [q. v.], working entirely in the dot and stipple style, and produced many fine plates, of which the most attractive are ‘A Dressing Room à l'Anglaise,’ and ‘A Dressing Room à la Française,’ a pair after Charles Ansell; ‘English Fireside’ and ‘French Fireside,’ a pair after C. Ansell; ‘Cottage Girl shelling Peas’ and ‘Village Girl gathering Nuts,’ a pair after William Redmore Bigg; ‘Amyntor and Theodora,’ after Thomas Stothard; ‘The Vestal,’ after Reynolds; ‘Sylvia and Daphne,’ after Angelica Kauffmann; ‘Louisa,’ after James Nixon; ‘Birth of the Thames,’ after Maria Cosway; ‘Madonna della Tenda,’ after Raphael; portrait of Mrs. Siddons, after John Downman; and portrait of the Duchess of Norfolk, after L. da Heere. He was also largely employed upon the illustrations to Sharpe's ‘British Poets,’ ‘British Classics,’ and ‘British Theatre.’ Tomkins was a clever original artist, and engraved from his own designs some pleasing fancy subjects as well as a few portraits, including those of George III and his daughter, the Princess of Würtemberg. He was engaged as drawing-master to the princesses, and spent much time at court, receiving the appointment of historical engraver to the queen. He executed a set of illustrations to Sir J. Bland Burgess's poem, ‘The Birth and Triumph of Love,’ from designs by Princess Elizabeth, and two sets of plates from papers cut by Lady Templetown. For some years Tomkins carried on business as a print publisher in Bond Street, and in 1797 he produced a sumptuous edition of Thomson's ‘Seasons,’ with plates by himself and Bartolozzi from designs by William Hamilton. He also projected two magnificent works, ‘The British Gallery of Art,’ with text by Tresham and Ottley, and ‘The Gallery of the Marquess of Stafford,’ with text by Ottley, which both appeared in 1818. These involved him in heavy financial loss, and he was compelled to obtain an act of parliament authorising him to dispose by lottery of the collection of watercolour drawings from which his engravings were executed, together with the unsold impressions of the plates, the whole valued at 150,000l. Many of the sets of prints were exquisitely printed in colours. Tomkins's latest work was a series of three plates from copies by Harriet Whitshed of paintings discovered at Hampton Court, 1834–40. He died at his house in Osnaburgh Street, London, on 22 April 1840. By his wife, Lucy Jones, he had a large family, including a daughter Emma, who practised as an artist and married Samuel Smith the engraver. The frontispiece to his edition of Thomson's ‘Seasons’ contains a medallion portrait of himself with others of Bartolozzi and Hamilton.
Charles Tomkins (fl. 1779), elder brother of Peltro William, was born in London on 7 July 1757. In 1776 he gained a premium from the Society of Arts for a view of Milbank, and subsequently practised as a topographical and antiquarian draughtsman and aquatint engraver. In 1791 he published ‘Eight Views of Reading Abbey,’ with text by himself (reissued in 1805 with twenty-three additional views of churches originally connected with the abbey); in 1796 ‘Tour in the Isle of Wight,’ with eighty plates; and in 1805 a set of illustrations to Petrarch's sonnets, which he dedicated to the Duchess of Devonshire. In conjunction with Francis Jukes he engraved Cleveley's two pictures of the advance and defeat of a floating battery at Gibraltar, 1782; he also drew and engraved the plates to the ‘British Volunteer,’ 1799, and a plan view of the sham fight of the St. George's Volunteers in Hyde Park in that year. Tomkins was an exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1773 to 1779. Many of his watercolour drawings are in the Crowle copy of Pennant's ‘London’ in the print-room of the British Museum.[Edwards's Anecdotes of Painting; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Nagler's Künstler-Lexikon; Dodd's manuscript Hist. of Engravers in Brit. Museum (Addit. MS. 33406); private information.]