Walter Scott


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James Thomson (1788-1850)

The portrait and figure engraver James Thomson (sometimes spelt 'Thompson') was born in May 1788 in Mitford, Northumberland. The fourth son of a clergyman, he was articled to a London engraver, Mackenzie of Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, in 1803. Having served his apprenticeship, he worked under Anthony Cardon from 1810 to 1812, then set up in business on his own.

Thomson developed a unique style by laying preliminary etched design lines on his plate before line or stipple engraving. His earliest work, for annuals such as the Literary Souvenir, Keepsake, Book of Gems, and Amulet, and journals like the European Magazine, New Monthly Magazine, and Court Journal, was mostly after sculptures by artists including Chantrey, Flaxman, Wyon, and Westmacott. He turned subsequently to engraving from paintings, working almost exclusively with portraits. Constantly in demand, he contributed to many popular illustrated works such as Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting (1827), Fisher's National Portrait Gallery (1830-34), Edmond Lodge's Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain (1835), A Description of the Collection of Ancient Marbles in the British Museum (1812-45), G.N. Wright's Gallery of Engravings (1844-46), John Kitto's Gallery of Scripture Engravings (1846-49), The Wilkie Gallery (1849), The Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Poets (1853), and the Imperial Dictionary (ca. 1861).

Corson P.7061

Click on the thumbnail to see Thomson's engraving of a portrait of Edmund Spenser

Thomson also produced larger-scale single prints, the best-known being engravings of Queen Victoria after Sir Francis Grant, Prince Albert after Sir William Charles Ross, Bishop Blomfield of London after George Richmond, and King Louis-Philippe of France after Edouard Debufe. He died of pulmonary consumption on 27 September 1850.

Thomson engraved four portraits of Scott: by William Nicholson (1820), John Partridge (1823), Sir Francis Chantrey (1831), and John Graham-Gilbert (1832). His only other Scott-related commission appears to have been Portraits of the Principal Female Characters in the Waverley Novels (1834), for which he engraved Isabel Vere (The Black Dwarf) and Lilias 'Green Mantle' Redgauntlet (Redgauntlet), both after E.T. Parris, and Mary Queen of Scots (The Abbot) after Federico Zuccaro. Click on the thumbnails below to see full-size images of the portraits of Isabel Vere and Lilias Redgauntlet.

Corson P.2922
Corson P.11.516
Isabel Vere
Lilias Redgauntlet


  • Bryan, Michael. Dictionary of Painters and Engravers: Biographical and Critical. New ed., rev. and enl., ed. Robert Edmund Graves (London: G. Bell, 1886-1889)
  • Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London: Printed by order of the Trustees, 1908-25)
  • Dictionary of National Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1921)
  • Engen, Rodney K. Dictionary of Victorian Engravers, Print Publishers and their Works (Cambridge : Chadwyck-Healey, c1979) 
  • Hunnisett, Basil. A Dictionary of British Steel Engravers (Leigh-on-Sea: F. Lewis, 1980)
  • Russell, Francis. Portraits of Sir Walter Scott: A Study of Romantic Portraiture (London: The Author, 1987)

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Last updated: 7-June-2005
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