Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 17 Is Charles F. Tomkins also correctly identified as a theatrical scene-painter?

Topic: Artist

Charles F. Tomkins (1798-1844) exhibited at the British Institution (1829-44) and the SBA, but not the RA.

He seems to have been scrupulous in at least signing his letters 'Charles F. Tomkins' as in letter by him (1840) currently for sale online addressed to Dominic Colnaghi, sending him 'a series of Sketches in Belgium, France and Germany; if you think they would answer your purpose as a work [i.e. for publication], I should be happy to meet you and make the necessary arrangements for its furtherance....P.S. They have not been seen by any one' – see

That suggests a recent tour though a 'Fountain at Nuremberg' was one of his BI exhibits in 1838: French and Rhine views were then what he showed there on his next and last appearances in 1843 and 1844.

The BM also has a couple of drawings by Charles F. Tomkins done for Colnaghi in 1832, but both annotated by another hand ('Fred Rose', who next had them) that he was born in 1807 and died in 1838, so someone is either wrong or has a crossed wire: and

The potential for such a confusion is the Charles Tomkins who was certainly an early 19th-century theatrical scene-painter also reported as having died in 1844 (reputedly of sunstroke) and latterly known as a principal scene-painter at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand. More recent research suggests he wasn't there that late but at various points between 1824 and 1835

What still seems lacking, however, is clear proof that 'Charles F.' and the scene-painter are the same or different men.

In a 'Directory of Victorian Scene Painters' in 'Theatrephile' [magazine] vol 1, no 2, 1984, Hilary Norris treated them as one under 'Charles F. Tomkins (1798-1844)' but as far as I know the theatre man never features with an 'F.' initial in playbills etc and 'Charles F.' may have deliberately used it to 'disambuguate' himself from the stage man or possibly also from his overlapping contemporary, the watercolour draughtsman Charles Tomkins (1757-1823). If the last was his father, I have never seen that claimed.

Norris calls him a 'Scene painter, draughtsman, caricaturist and landscape painter in watercolour'; notes that he worked with Stanfield at the Coburg (Old Vic) in the 1820s, at the Olympic for Madame Vestris and for Macready at Covent Garden in 1837; (and to that one can certainly add early work Astley's Amphitheatre, Sadlers Wells and the Surrey Theatre from other sources). She also states -possibly based on Christopher Wood's 'Dict. of Victorian Painters' (a source cited) that he painted 'the temporary buildings erected for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 and drew for early numbers of "Punch"' - plus the BI and SBA oils track record already mentioned.

It is certainly possible that 'Charles F.' and 'Charles the scenepainter' are the same but if so he seems to have been 'thinly spread' for all the activities listed, so is there more positive proof of it?

Until recently this 'St Goar' was wrongly attributed to the man who died in 1823: it's the only one on Art UK by Charles F. and, presumably more properly St Goarhausen with Katz Castle (as also so painted by Turner from a different angle).

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Charles F. Tomkins has been identified as the theatrical scene-painter of the same name. A draft biography of the artist has been produced for Art UK. The painting has been identified as 'Part of St Goarhausen, on the Rhine, with the Castle of the Katz', exhibited at the Society of British Artists, 1841, no. 346.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Martin Hopkinson,

as you probably know Sankt Goar, is on the west bank of the Rhine with the ruins of Burg Rheinfels castle above it. Sankt Goarhausen is opposite it on the east bank with 2 castles above it , Katz and Maus. The former is more prominent and was also painted by Thomas Miles Richardson in a work which included the castles on both sides , and in Turner's watercolour of 1817 in the Courtauld. I spent a month at Sankt Goar 1961, and confirm that Pieter's identification is correct

Kieran Owens,

Only one person named Charles Tomkins is recored in the official death registers as having died in the UK in 1844.

Also, the attached notice, for Charles Tomkins, scene painter, aged 44 (therefore supposedly born between 26th September 1799 and 25th September 1800), appeared in the Caledonian Mercury of Thursday 26 September 1844.

The son of Richard and Charlotte Tomkins, Charles Frederick Tomkins was born on the 23rd December 1798 and was baptised at Saint Andrew, Holborn, London, on the 6th January 1805.

Starting on page 197, this British Museum catalogue highlights the work of Charles F. Tomkins (1798 - 1844):

Also, Martin Hardie's "Water-colour Painting in Britain, Volume 3" (Batsford, 1966) clearly identifies Tomkins the scene painter with C. F. Tomkins (1798 - 1844) the painter who exhibited at the Society of British Artists

See also the following connection between C. F. Tomkins, painter of foreign landscapes, the Society of British Artists, and Drury Lane Theatre:

and these very definite ones, of 1829 and c.1830/1831, between "C. F. Tomkins" and Drury Lane:

Thanks to both:

Martin - I made an unwary presumption from looking at the Turner that St Goar was a mistake for St Goarhausen without checking modern images. Katz Castle has long been reconstructed above St Goarhausen, but the main historic tower survives and is circular, as the one here appears to be so, more by luck than judgement on my part, it seems to be intended as the latter.

Kieran - I think you have confirmed that it is a case of 'one man not two' - though the most convincing piece of primary evidence is still that just one man named Charles Tomkins is known to have died in in England in 1844. There is nothing else there more definite. What is still missing is the sort of comparative press notice that people like Stanfield and Roberts regularly got commenting on their work in gallery and theatre at the same time (not always complimentarily).

It's certainly interesting that Tomkins was latterly under medical restraint, which might back up the (only secondary) mention I recall of the cause of his death being sunstroke - more a hazard to a landscape than scene painter in terms of working environment. (It was also the prime cause, while visiting Egypt, given at the time for the derangement of Richard Dadd.)

The link below is to the BM's E.P. Novello drawing of Tomkins (oddly with Victor Novello's initials on it l.r. for some reason).

He is not in fact holding a drawing 'compass', as the catalogue states, in his right hand but three long artist's oil brushes (not the sort mainly used by scene-painters).

His dress is also apparently a belted painter's smock with oddly placed pockets over a rather smart early 1830s coat (judging from the black turn-down collar), and with a warm hat in an exterior setting: does it hint at 'en plein air' I wonder, or is it otherwise so idiosyncratic as 'artist costume' to be the reason why Novello may have shown him this way?

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, the attached advertisement, from the Morning Herald, of Thursday 7th January 1836, might provide the evidence you require regarding Tomkins' working at theatrical scene painting and landscape work. Planche's 'Continental Gleanings' is mentioned in the article linked to above - - where Tomkins is referenced as producing "Twelve Designs for the Costume of Shakespeare's Richard III,...after Planché's drawings (1830)" and in this ad for Plaunch's book there are lithographs after sepia drawings by C. F. Tomkins, all of continental locations in central Europe.

Apparently also confirming that this view is not strictly 'St Goar' is the strong probability that it is in fact 'Part of St Goarhausen, on the Rhine, with the Castle of the Katz' which was no. 346 in the SBA exhibition of 1841. (It was the only one he showed there of either St Goar or St Goarhausen.)

Tomkins exhibited most of his work there - 116 in all (of which this was the 74th) from 1825 to 1884, the year of his death: The only years in which he did not show at least one and usually many more both in oil and w/c were 1826 and 1833-35: he was elected a member in 1837 (acc. Christopher Wood: 1838 acc. Johnson, perhaps just counting from first exhibiting as such).

A summary of Tomkins now attached. He's a so-far overlooked case of another man (other than Stanfield and David Roberts as prime examples) who seems to have realised you could start as a stage scene painter in which field he was quite well-known- and 'move up', though not as fast or far as they did before a rather mysterious early death. The confusions over him occasionally involve several other Tomkinses: Alan Downer's index in his biography of Macready, for example (see sources in attached) mistkenly gives his initials as 'P. W.' for Peltro William Tomkins (1759-1840) and Charles Algernon Tomkins (b. 1821) was an engraver who also provides opportunity for overlap error.

This one is not mine formally to close down, but I suggest the Calderdale painting is the picture shown at the SBA in 1841 so warranting a reversion to its original title and then doing so unless anyone has anything more to add.

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A small addition to Pieter's exemplary biography. Although 'C. F. Tomkins' did not exhibit at the British Institution in 1839, the artist thus named did show three works that year at the Liverpool Academy, submitting from 3 Walcot Terrace, Lambeth, London. All were French subjects -- two views of Rouen and one of Abbeville (LA lists).

The question posed at the outset has been definitively answered: the scene-painter known as Charles Tomkins and the easel painter known as Charles F. Tomkins were one and the same, i.e. Charles Frederick Tomkins (1798–1844). Moreover the Calderdale painting is almost certainly the work shown by him at the Society of British Artists in 1840 as 'Part of St Goarhausen, on the Rhine, with the Castle of the Katz' (no.346). This title would be appropriate for the Calderdale picture even if it were not the actual exhibit of 1840.

As neither artist nor subject fall within the scope of my group, I can only suggest that this discussion now be closed on the basis of the paragraph immediately above. However, I hope that Andrew will be able to make a more formal recommendation.

Thank you Richard: I have amended accordingly (plus typo corrections) as below. The Calderdale picture -if we agree it is beyond reasonable doubt that exhibited at the SBA -appeared there in 1841 (not 1840). The Tomkins note dated 1840 -probably by Colnaghi in filing it now I have seen the hand -would probably have precluded it being that early so I suspect his Rhine tour was probably in 1839 and the Liverpool pictures ones that had been painted earlier: there are quite a few that could have been the same ones shown at th SBA and BI, so I doubt the three at Liverpool were done a-purpose.

Incidentally, this also more accurately dates what looks like an on-the-spot sketch of 'The Katz on the Rhine' (so inscribed by him) in the British Museum as 'probably 1839', showing its tall round tower from another point in St Goarhausen:

Early relations between the SBA (est. 1823) and the RA were a bit rocky, the former being founded to improve opportunity for the many artists who were not getting onto the Academy's walls at the annual exhibition there. Many also did but it was initially a sometimes 'parvenu' to 'grande dame' relationship, including some ill feeling when those whose early SBA success enabled their 'step-up' to ARA/RA and transfer of prime allegiance away from Suffolk Street to Somerset House.

I suspect Tomkins would have remained more an SBA man. J.D. Harding was a topograhical artist of similar stamp -though much more a watercolourist and OWCS man - who tried for nine years to get elected ARA before giving up. He was Tomkins's nearly exact contemporary (b. 4 December 1798, with Tomkins following on 23rd), but lived nearly 20 years longer to 1863.

Thanks particularly to Pieter and Kieran for evidence confirming that Charles F. Tomkins can be identified as the scene-painter of the same name. Pieter's biography gives further details of his career. The Calderdale painting has been convincingly identified as 'Part of St Goarhausen, on the Rhine, with the Castle of the Katz', exhibited at the Society of British Artists, 1841, no. 346.

Before this shuts down, here is the note Tomkings wrote to Colnaghi (cited right at the top here) offering him French, Belgian and German sketches, with what is probably the latter's 1840 date added when filing it. It shows his writing and full signature as an obviously well-schooled hand that also matches such inscriptions as are on his known drawings (BM and V&A) well enough to be sure it is his , not an amanuensis. It was previously tipped onto a backing sheet at the fold towards the left edge.

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