John Thomson - Encyclopedia

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JOHN THOMSON (1778-1840), Scottish landscape painter - Thomson of Duddingston, as he is commonly styled - was born on the 1st of September 1778 at Dailly, Ayrshire. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were clergymen of the Church of Scotland. He studied for the same vocation in the university of Edinburgh; and, residing with his elder brother, Thomas Thomson, afterwards celebrated as an antiquarian and feudal lawyer, he made the acquaintance of Francis Jeffrey and other young members of the Scottish bar afterwards notable. During the recess he sketched in the country, and, while attending his final college session, he studied art for a month under Alexander Nasmyth. After his father's death he became, in 1800, his successor as minister of Dailly; and in 1805 he was translated to the parish of Duddingston, close to Edinburgh. He continued, however, to practise art as an amateur, apparently without any detriment to his pastoral duties. Thomson's popularity as a painter increased with his increasing artistic skill; and, having mastered his initial scruples against receiving artistic fees, on being offered X15 for a landscape - reassured by "Grecian" Williams's stout assertion that the work was "worth thrice the amount" - the minister of Duddingston began to dispose of. the productions of his brush in the usual manner. In 1830 he was made an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. Thomson was also an accomplished performer on violin and flute, an exact and well-read student of physical science, and one of the writers on optics in the early numbers of the Edinburgh Review. He enjoyed a singularly wide and eminent circle of friends, including, among artists, Turner and Wilkie, and among men of letters, Wilson and Scott - the latter of whom desired that Thomson, instead of Turner, should have illustrated the collected edition of his works. He died at Duddingston on the 27th of October 1840 (not the loth, as stated by some authorities). Thomson was twice married, and his second wife, the widow of Mr Dalrymple of Cleland, was herself also a skilful amateur artist.

Thomson is fairly represented in the Scottish National Gallery; and the "Aberlady Bay" of that collection, with the soft infinity of its clouded grey sky, and its sea which leaps and falls again in waves of sparkling and of shadowed silver, is fit to rank among the triumphs of Scottish art.

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