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Peter Toms RA (1726 - 1777)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

The painter and herald Peter Toms was the son of the engraver William Henry Toms (c.1700 – 1765).

The younger Toms was apprenticed to leading portrait painter Thomas Hudson (1701 – 1779) before becoming Portcullis pursuivant at the College of Arms in 1746, a position he held for the rest of his life. This role involved overseeing matters regarding family coats of arms as well as performing ceremonial duties at royal functions.

From 1749 he worked as a drapery painter (specialist painter of costume in other artists’ portraits) for artists including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Allan Ramsay, Francis Cotes and Benjamin West. He also practised as a portrait painter, although few works by him are known.

In 1768 Toms was elected a Founder Member of the Royal Academy, presumably owing more to his relationships with Reynolds, Cotes and West than his own reputation. Toms’ work was not widely known and he rarely exhibited his own work; he was one of only two Founder Members who had never exhibited their work with either the Society of Artists of Great Britain or the Free Society of Artists. These two bodies were the principal exhibiting societies in London prior to the foundation of the Royal Academy; Toms’ absence from their exhibitions suggests he was content to work as an assistant to better-known artists. Accordingly, he only exhibited three works at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1771.

The death of his fellow artist Cotes in 1771 greatly affected Toms. He became depressed and turned to drink, at one point attempting to commit suicide. He died at his home on Rathbone Place, London in 1777 and his studio materials were auctioned later the same month.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 1726 in London

Died: 1 January 1777

Nationality: British

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Associated archives

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