The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Thomson (1700-1748), Poet

Poet; son of a Scottish minister, born at Ednam, educated at Edinburgh University; first published verse in the Edinburgh Miscellany, 1720; went to London 1725 where he met Arbuthnot, Gay and Pope, and wrote Winter, the first of his Seasons, published 1726-30; travelled in France and Italy as tutor to Charles Richard Talbot, son of the lord chancellor; on return resided in Richmond, publishing 1734-36 his long poem Liberty, and 1740 The Masque of Alfred, containing Rule Britannia; his tragedies included Tancred and Sigismunda, 1752; patronized by Pitt and Lyttelton; buried in Richmond church.

'Our author himself hints, somewhere in his works, that his exterior was not the most promising; his make being rather robust than graceful: though it is known that in his youth he had been thought handsome. His worst appearance was, when you saw him walking alone, in a thoughtful mood: but let a friend accost him, and enter into conversation, he would instantly brighten into a most amiable aspect, his features no longer the same, and his eye darting a peculiar animated fire.’ [1]

Johnson wrote, 'Thomson was of stature above middle size, and "more fat than bard beseems", of a dull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, uninviting appearance ...'. [2]

Footnotesback to top

1) P. Murdoch, 'The Life of Mr James Thomson', Works of James Thomson, 1762, I, p xvi.
2) S. Johnson, Lives of the Poets, ed. P. Cunningham, 1854, III, p 235.

Referencesback to top

Johnson 1854
S. Johnson, Lives of the Poets, ed. P. Cunningham, 1854.

Murdoch 1762
P. Murdoch, 'The Life of Mr James Thomson', Works of James Thomson, 1762.

Rice and McIntyre 1957
D. Talbot Rice and P. McIntyre, The University Portraits, Edinburgh, 1957.

Times Literary Supplement, 1942.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.