Thomas Hickey 1741 - 1824
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Thomas Hickey 1741 - 1824

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A set of eight portraits of members of the Bedford (originally Tubb) Family of Acton, London: the father William Bedford (1744-1825) and his wife, and their children, including John Bedford, 2nd son (1771-1807)




Each portrait oval oil on canvas 15 x 11 inches, and contained in its original giltwood frame by Thomas Fentham, “carver and glass grinder” of 52 the Strand, London.


The reverse of the paintings variously inscribed with the names and dates of the sitters


Painted circa 1783


Thomas Hickey1 was born in Capel Street, Dublin May 1741, the 2nd son of Noah Hickey (1689-1766), a Dublin confectioner and Freeman of the City, and his wife Anne (d.1762). He was trained at the Dublin Society's Drawing Schools where he won five prizes in 1753-6; his first documented and dated portraits are of 1758-9 (NGI).


He was in Italy c.1761-7 whence he returned for three years to Dublin, mixing in the Irish immigrant artistic community centred on Solomon Delane. His return to Dublin was marked with a few important commissions, but an insufficient number to support his ambition; he thus moved to London in 1771. He regularly sent paintings to the London exhibitions until 1775, and 1778 was in Bath where he stayed for four years. In July1780, he joined a little convoy of five ships bound for India, but was captured en route. He was released at Cadiz and journeyed to Portugal, where he found much prosperous employment before returning to London in 1783. He travelled to Bombay in 1784, and found numerous commissions in India until his return to England in 1791. From 1792-4 he was on MaCartney's Embassy to China, returning to Dublin in 1796. His return to India in 1798 was his last great journey, and he stayed in that country until his death in Madras in 1824.


Hickey is amongst the most interesting and ambitious Irish painters of the 18th century, and he attempts many different genres. These small oval portraits enjoyed widespread popularity with middle-class sitters in the last quarter of the 18th century, and were the speciality of such painters as Francis Alleyne and Hugh Douglas Hamilton. Hickey seems to have painted quite a number of such portraits during his stay in Lisbon and shortly afterwards in London. He seems to have used the same framer on several occasions: Thomas Fentham's trade label is found on the portrait of Octavia Bedford in the current set, and also on a set of oval portraits by Thomas Hickey of similar dimensions of Charles Dilly and his sisters 2


The Bedford Family3 were originally from Lambourn in Berkshire and their original family name was Tubb. John Tubb (1715-1773), a surgeon, married Susannah Bedford (1716-1802) in 1735 at the Church of the Savoy after the family had moved to London. Their son John Tubb II (1740-1805) was an architect who married Sarah Burnell on 15th April 1769 at St Martin's in the Field, and were to have a large family; they and their children were the subjects of the set of paintings which are discussed here.


The eldest son was Arthur Tubb who was born in in 1769, and was soon followed by his siblings John Sherman (1771 – 1807); Thomas (1772-1817) Charles (1773-1834); George (1775-1852); Harriet (1776-1851); Sophia (1777 - died in infancy) Frederick (1779-1862); Sophia (1780-1869); Francis Octavius (1784-1858) and James (1787-1871).


Like many families of the professional classes in the expanding economy of the 18th century, the family travelled widely: the boys entered the professions: Arthur followed his grandfather into the medical profession; John Sherman became a Judge of the Admiralty division in Barbados, where he died in 1807 and was buried in St. Michael's Cathedral (his wife died on the journey back to England the following year); Thomas Bedford was an architect in Sir John Soane's office and enjoyed a successful practice later in West Wales; Charles was a Proctor and Deputy Registrar of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury; George was a solicitor; Frederick was a Naval Officer who was twice severely wounded in action dying as a pensioner at Greenwich; Francis Octavius was an architect who designed several “Commissioners' “ churches in London and James joined the army and eventually rose to the rank of Lieut. Colonel.


In 1785 by Royal License the Tubb children change their name to Bedford consequent to the wishes of their maternal Uncle, the Rev Thomas Bedford, who bequeathed a substantial fortune to them on his demise.


The family is best memorialised today from the house and small estate (of about 25 acres) which was built by the architect brothers and which a century later was developed as Bedford Park, the celebrated Arts and Crafts village at Turnham Green in West London.



1We are grateful to The Knight of Glin FSA and William Laffan for endorsing Hickey's authorship of these paintings

2Sotheby's Colonnade auction, London 19 February 1997 lot 177

3We are extremely grateful to Mr Reginald Johnson, the great-great-great-grandson of John Sherman Tubb/Bedford for allowing access to his exceptional family archive and detailed genealogical research