Hugh Thomson ‘This Brilliant Ulster Artist’ 1860 – 1920

Exhibition travels to Ballymoney Museum

After reopening four months ago, Ballymoney Museum continues its high quality exhibition programme by welcoming an exquisite exhibition, opening to the public on 7th September 2009. Thanks to its partnership with the Causeway Museum Service, Ballymoney Museum has secured the display of Coleraine Museum’s stunning collection of artworks by artist Hugh Thomson.

Hugh Thomson, born in Kingsgate Street Coleraine in 1860, went to Coleraine Model School and worked as a teenager in Gibbon & Sons, the linen merchants on the Strand Rd.  The Thomson family moved to Kilrea when his father remarried after the early death of his mother Catherine Andrews. His stepmother was Maria Lennox of the Manor House Kilrea. Whilst at school in Coleraine Hugh often stayed at his aunts house, Breezemount in Coleraine. Throughout his life he retained his links with family and friends in the Coleraine area.

H.A. Gribbon recognised Hugh’s artistic talent and recommended him to Marcus Ward & Co Belfast the prestigious award winning printers and publishers. It was there under head designer John Vinycomb that Thomson developed his skills as an illustrator. The influence of his artistic development with Vinycomb can be seen throughout his career- his attention to detail, his skills in different mediums, his extraordinary ability to capture people, places and the natural world.

In 1883, Hugh Thomson set off for London coincidently travelling with fellow Coleraine Artist A.D McCormick. Working with publishers Macmillan & Co. he went on to illustrate many works by famous Victorian authors including Charles Dickens, Oliver Goldsmith, Robert Buchanan, Elizabeth Gaskell, R. B. Sheridan, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray and he famously illustrated all of Jane Austen novels.

A fine watercolorist Hugh Thomson is considered to be amongst the top three Victorian book illustrators and is well known for illustrating Quality Street, with his work still adorning the chocolate boxes until recently.

In 2003 Coleraine Borough Council were offered a unique opportunity to purchase over 800 items including 514 works of art and 168 books from his personal library. Over 30 years ago J & J Gamble from Emerald Isle Books, Belfast, had purchased the collection from Thomson’s nephew when he was still in Donegal. It had remained with the Gambles ever since. Thanks to the generous support from Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and Northern Ireland Museums Council, Coleraine Borough Council has been able to acquire this collection and ensure it is kept in the public domain through Coleraine museum. Since finally bringing this exquisite collection home to Coleraine in 2005, Coleraine Museum has continued to acquire further pieces by Thomson and today has the largest known collection of Thomson’s work in the world.

This exhibition is the beginning of the series of exhibitions, events and programming over the next few years exploring the history this wonderful collection reveals. In July 2008 Coleraine Museum opened the Hugh Thomson Study Room in Coleraine Town Hall where people can, by appointment, view the collection.

A selection of the artist’s works will be on display in the temporary exhibition gallery and will run until 31st October 2009. Ballymoney Museum underwent major refurbishment supported by Heritage Lottery Fund earlier this year, and has received almost 9,000 visitors since reopening in May.

Opening times: Monday –Saturday  9.00am-5.00pm  Friday  9.00am-4.30pm          Admission free

For further information please contact:
Ashleigh Kirkpatrick
Collections Access Officer
Causeway Museum Service
Tel: 028 7034 7234

Pen and Ink drawing by Hugh Thomson, ‘He has asked her’ for Emma by JANE AUSTEN; Macmillan & Co 1896

Pen and Ink drawing by Hugh Thomson, ‘He has asked her’ for Emma by JANE AUSTEN; Macmillan & Co 1896