Stewardson, Thomas (1781-1859)

Stewardson, Thomas (1781-1859)

British artist Thomas Stewardson was a portrait painter to many of the prominent and fashionable names of the early 19th century. Working primarily in London, Stewardson could court the interests of the wealthy patrons who desired to see themselves painted with sophistication and elegance.

Stewardson was born in Kendal in the Lake District to Quaker parents. It was in this small market town that he first began to receive painting instruction from local artist John Fothergill. This education was developed further by lessons with George Romney (1734-1802). One of the most prominent and desired portrait artists of the time, Romney would have ensured Stewardson received the best training he could possibly attain.

This training, and perhaps Romney’s encouragement, must have driven Stewardson to move to London. In the capital he could more easily pursue a career in portraiture, for here he would find many of the rich patrons to whom he could offer his services.

Soon enough, Stewardson was exhibiting his works at the Royal Academy, a success which would bring him to the attention of those much-desired patrons.

During his early years in London he also potentially received further instruction from another prominent portrait artist, John Opie (1761-1807). There is an 1804 portrait of Stewardson executed by Opie. Opie was a teacher at the Royal Academy Schools, although there is no evidence to suggest Stewardson attended these schools, so perhaps he received private instruction.

Stewardson began to build up an extensive client base, something reflected in the works he exhibited both at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. The Duke of Marlborough, the Marquis and Marquess of Winchester, and the Right Honourable George Canning are amongst some of the sitters Stewardson depicted. His efforts culminated in royal attention, and from 1811 he became painter to Caroline, Princess of Wales (later Queen Caroline).

Upon looking at Stewardson’s portraits, it becomes clear why he received so much attention. There is a lightness to his works, even when his sitters are swamped by a dark background. This serves to further highlight the brightness of their eyes and the healthy flush often given to their skin. Stewardson paints with a realism which makes each sitter distinctive, yet he is also certain to emphasise intellect and status. A sitter might be clutching a book, a sign of their education, or draped in medals and the apparel of their standing. Their expressions are often composed. There is a refined elegance in both his painterly skill and how it represents his sitters.

Unfortunately, for the last 30 years of his life, Stewardson could not work professionally due to illness. However, in 1845 he became a member of the London Athenaeum Club, which was aimed at those believed to have gained distinction in the arts and sciences. This suggests that although he was not working, Stewardson was recognised as a formidable and respectable artistic talent.

From a sleepy market town in the Lake District to courting the interest of royalty and the highest in 19th century British Society, Thomas Stewardson was a portrait painter of great skill. He was able to transform both his own prospects and the subjects of his paintings into great successes of sophistication.


Born in Kendal, Cumbria, Britain.


Exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited frequently at the British Institution.


Appointed painter to Caroline, Princess of Wales (later Queen Caroline).


Became a member of the Athenaeum Club.


Died in Pall Mall, London, Britain. Buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, Britain.

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