1704 - 1767

Thomas Bardwell

Thomas Bardwell was born, probably at Worlingworth, Suffolk, in 1704, son of John Bardwell, a farmer at Worlingworth. Thomas established himself as a decorative painter at Bungay, Suffolk and by 1732 had a thriving business, employing at least one apprentice, a business that he handed over to his younger brother Robert, to concentrate on portrait painting. His first known dated painting is a conversation piece from 1736, the 'Brewster Family of Wrentham Hall, Suffolk'. Thereafter he established a good local clientele and may also have worked in London, as 1740–1741, he produced the portraits John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and David Garrick, newly acclaimed as Richard III at Goodman's Fields. In 1752 he journeyed to Scotland, via Yorkshire, painting several portraits and some decorative work. Thomas was back in the south by the end of 1753 and from 1759 to the end of his life thrived as a portraitist in Norwich. Bardwell was self-taught as an artist, stylistically his work is in the manner of Thomas Hudson (1701-1779), London's most successful portraitist during the 1740s, but there are also compositional references to Van Dyck. In addition, many sitters wear the shiny ‘Van Dyck’ costume which was fashionable for portraiture at the time. Formats range from portrait busts to life-size full lengths. His portrait of Captain John Fowle who left his estates to his cousin, William Middleton, then aged 24, later Sir William Fowle Middleton, 1st Bart (1748-1829) which enabled Middleton to purchase Shrubland Hall, near Ipswich. He adopted the name Fowle into his surname following this bequest. Bardwell may have been little known as a painter had it not been for his book, 'The Practice of Painting and Perspective Made Easy' (London 1756) resulting from a study of seventeenth-century paintings in East Anglian collections. The book went into two pirated editions in 1795 and 1840. Bardwell died a widower, on 9 September 1767 and was buried, two days later in the churchyard of St Mary at Bungay, aged 63. His daughter Elizabeth '1771, aged 19' is commemorated in the tablet for Thomas in Bungay St Mary church. (Walpole Society Vol. 76. 1976)

Works by This Artist