Bretland, Thomas Walker (1802-1874)

Bretland, Thomas Walker (1802-1874)

Thomas Walker Bretland was a respected British sporting painter working predominantly in oils. 

As a boy, Bretland developed a keen interest in animals and would sketch every horse, dog and cow that happened to amble into view. One can imagine him excited to catch a glimpse of an engraving after George Stubbs (1724-1806). Inspired by the old English master and keen to hone his skills. His father, a coach and carriage painter, was less enthusiastic however and refused to support him. Leaving the young man to duck away into the attic and draw on the walls.

Instead, he was apprenticed in heraldic painting, which he excelled at, and presumably worked alongside his father producing designs for carriage doors. And, in 1837, following his father’s death, he inherited the family business. Being at the helm of such a business provided Bretland with ample opportunities to connect with the aristocracy. And it was thanks to the advice of one such distinguished gentleman, Lord Middleton, that he finally decided to pursue a career as an animal painter.

During the early 1840s, he produced numerous sporting works for the landed gentry, particularly in Nottingham. Hunting and shooting scenes were his raison d'être along with horse portraiture and depictions of prize-winning cattle. The racehorse owner JS Drinkald commissioned him to paint several of his winners, with other patrons including the Duke of Buccleuch, Duke of Montrose, Lord Chesterfield and Baron Rothschild.

Here in this piece from around that period, he’s captured a field master atop a grey hunter before a landscape. A dark and brooding sky adds a sense of grandeur. It’s likely to be a commission for the gentleman in question and probably once hung in a fine country home.

Thomas Walker Bretland

Today, Thomas Walker Bretland is represented in numerous public collections including at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Nottingham City Museum, and Shugborough Hall. He was described by the Nottingham Journal as a “man of retiring and unobtrusive habits” and “highly esteemed for his sterling uprightness and integrity”.

Public Collections

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, National Trust at Calke Abbey, Nottingham City Museums & Galleries, Shugborough Hall, Weston Park, York Art Gallery.



Born in Nottingham, England, to Peter Bretland, the owner of a coach and carriage painting business, and Elizabeth Bretland (nee Walker).


Apprenticed in heraldic painting.


Married Mary Ann Ingham in Spondon, Derby. The pair would have three children.
Became a partner in his father’s business.


Lived in Nottingham. Occupation recorded as ‘Painter’.


Following the death of his father, he worked as a coach and carriage painter.

C. 1840

Began working for local patrons including members of the aristocracy as an animal portrait painter.


Lived in Nottingham. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist’.


Lived in Sneinton, Nottingham, with his two daughters and a servant. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist’.


Married Emma Seals in Sheffield. The pair would have five children.


Lived in Sherwood, Nottingham, with his wife, two daughters, three sons, and a servant. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist & Painter’.


Lived in Sherwood, Nottingham, with his wife, two daughters, three sons, and a servant. Occupation recorded as ‘Artist’.


Died in Nottingham.


Nottingham Journal

“We are sorry to record the death of Mr. Thomas Bretland, who died yesterday at his residence in Shakespeare-street. The deceased gentleman was an artist of great taste and ability, and his pictures of animal life adorn the dwellings of many of the principal families of the town and county. He was a man of retiring and unobtrusive habits, but by those who knew him he was highly esteemed for his sterling uprightness and integrity. For many years he filled the office of deacon in the Baptist chapel, Broad-street, Nottingham, and his death will be deeply lamented by the congregation worshipping there, by whom he was universally respected.”

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