Thomas Wainewright
[ Issue 47 ]

Thomas Wainewright holds a lot of interest for Emily Bronto

For your reading pleasure Bikwil gives you Thomas Wainewright

Thomas Wainewright

Today Fizzgig talks about essays, paintings, forgeries and a nasty alkaloid.  All part of the colourful life of Thomas Wainewright.

Meet a suspected (though unproven) strychnine poisoner who in his day was a well-regarded painter and art critic

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From the Back Verandah — Fizzgig


You’ve read about the deranged murderer W.C. Minor who from prison made a significant contribution to the OED (A Word in Your Pink Shell-like, Issue 14, July 1999). Now meet a suspected (though unproven) strychnine poisoner who in his day was a well-regarded painter and art critic — the Englishman Thomas Griffiths Wain[e]wright (1794-1847).

He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and contributed to several literary periodicals. As his career developed, he was introduced to literary celebrities like Dickens, Wordsworth, Lamb, Hazlitt, De Quincey and Blake.

It wasn’t long, however, before his glamorous and expensive lifestyle led him into financial difficulties, and he was driven to turn his artistic talents to the counterfeiting of signatures. Indeed, it was forgery and not the alleged murder of three relatives that convicted him. In 1837 he was sentenced to transportation for life to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania).

At first he was made to toil at road-building on a chain-gang, but eventually he was permitted to work as a hospital orderly and because of his talent even to take up painting again.

He died of a stroke, still a convict, in the hospital in Hobart Town.

Fortunately for art historians, from time to time Wainewright had been authorised to paint elegant portraits of well-to-do Vandemonian citizens. These are generally thought to be his most accomplished work as an artist, though some critics have found fault with them for their uniformity.

Robertson Davies, eminent Canadian man of letters (1913-1995), in his essay Painting, Fiction and Faking, offers this comment:

Today, in Australia, to have a portrait of an ancestor painted by Wainwright confers a wholly understandable distinction. But if he had not been a gentleman-crook one wonders if it would be so.

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