American artist James Crawford Thom was praised in his time for his ‘poetic’ and ‘thoughtful’ genre scenes and landscapes. Thom is very keen on rural and interior scenes in which children are the focus.
They play with model boats upon a stream, collect eggs from chickens, or supervise whilst their mother cuts wood. The interiors in which he places these children sweep to the sides in shadow, keeping the children the main source of focus in hazy, soft light. His landscapes capture the bitter chill of winter or the tentative budding of spring. Thom creates a great sense of atmosphere in each of his paintings, lightly touched with a reminiscent, romantic brush cultivating the feeling of those wonderous days of childhood.
It was not uncommon for American painters to take inspiration and travel to Europe to further their craft. Thom was no exception. After receiving tutelage from his father, who was a sculptor, and training in New York, he departed for France. There, he befriended artist Pierre Édouard Frère (1819-1886), who set up a school in Écouen, just outside Paris. Thom evidently studied and became inspired by Frère’s work. Frère was also keen on painting children in domestic and rural genre scenes. Indeed, many critics at the time noted this inspiration.
When Thom exhibited in Britain, much was made of the ‘French manner’ of his art.
At the same time, it must also be noted that there is an American touch to Thom’s work. The 19th-Century saw the establishment of the first distinctly American movement in art, the Hudson River School. The school focused on ideas from romanticism of the sublime, depicting the American landscape as a place of promise and beauty. It also tapped into ideas of naturalism, with keen attention to detail. Whilst these styles were inspired by movements in Europe, there is much to suggest this was an equal exchange of ideas. A potential reference is made to an artist of the Hudson River School, William Mason Brown (1828-1898), by a critic praising Thom’s work. They cite the ‘poetic scene glowing in sunset’ as being very reminiscent of the American style.
It seems that whilst Thom took inspiration from his time in France, he could also not let go of his American roots. Indeed, he returned to America in his latter years and would work there until his death. His artistic legacy continued through his children. His son, Salvatore Thom, was also a painter.
In 1983, a posthumous exhibition of his work was held in New Jersey. His work ‘The Acorn’ is held in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute at the National Museum of American Art.
Born in New York City.
Studied at the National Academy of Design, New York City.
Travelled to Écouen, France.
Lived in Britain and exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Participated in the Boston Exhibition.
First wife, Louise Giles Thom, died.
Married Sarah Bloodgood.
Died in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.