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Telephone: 0131 226 6932 or 0845 388 5879
46 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3NH, Scotland (TSOH)

Biography and current catalogue for

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1792–1864) 

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was a topographical watercolour painter and engraver of buildings and townscapes. He was born in France on 16 January 1792, the son of a watchcase maker from Edinburgh. Because of the revolutionary times, the family moved back and settled in what was then the village of Islington. The most important influence on his early artistic career was his older brother George, an artist working in both pencil and watercolour. The two brothers often worked together on projects as their skills complemented each other – George was very fast with the pencil outline, and Thomas a better finisher.

Thomas was employed to illustrate architecture in London, and later Edinburgh, Bath and Bristol. His paintings were the basis for steel engravings in many books. His first acclaim came with Metropolitan Improvements, a publication of modern London architecture commissioned by Jones & Co. He worked mostly for Frederick Crace, who employed him to paint old London buildings prior to their demolition, with much of the work surviving in the Crace collection at the British Museum. The story of Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in many ways mirrors the life of any struggling painter in the early modern period: i.e. one of dependency upon a patron in order to facilitate one’s career. Throughout the 1820s Shepherd worked hard to establish himself as a popular artist, both by touring and contributing to numerous topographical publications. But after 1830 his output as an illustrator of books rapidly declined - possibly due to a change in public demand for such books.

Shepherd’s style of painting was characterized by an attention to detail towards to subject building or street being depicted, but his scenes often contained people, carriages, horses, or dogs. Thus his collection of paintings gives us an excellent image of Victorian Britain via the fashions and activities of the people. His view often give us a romanticized image of the British towns, avoiding the filth, smoke and poverty and focussing more on the architectural beauty.

Thomas Shepherd is best known for 38 important drawings of Edinburgh made for Modern Athens Displayed, or Edinburgh in the 19th Century, 1829, which were executed in a series of over 100 small sketches which were engraved by 19 different engravers. He had several apprentices; including James Shepherd in 1822, David Hill in 1825 and Charles Robertson in 1828. Another important engraving is the large ‘View of Edinburgh showing the communication between the Old and the New Town as proposed by Alexander Trotter Esq, of Dreghorn’, 1834. Other historically interesting works include four fine watercolours of the contemporary Edinburgh Scene ‘Charlotte Square’, ‘Regent Murray’s House in the Canongate’, the ‘Levee Room in the Regent Murray House’ and the ‘West Bow from the Lawnmarket’.

He became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1821. His later years were probably spend outside the public eye, because his death on 4th July 1864 was not reported in the press. Shepherd does have a blue plaque at No 26 Batchelor Street in Islington, where he is being commemorated today.