Thomas Hickey was born in Dublin in May 1741 and trained at the Royal Dublin Society Schools from 1753-1756 winning several prizes. From 1761-67 he travelled to Italy, returning to Dublin for three years before moving to London, where he trained and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1772 and 1775. From 1776-1780 he is known to be working in Bath. In the 1778 Bath Guide he was acclaimed as ‘a man of genius’. The present portrait dates from around the late 1770s and almost certainly would have been executed during his Bath years. The provenance is of note as Alveston House is not far from Bath city centre and this portrait is known to be probably from that estate which is in the village of the same name.
Unable, however, to establish a sufficiently successful practice, Hickey decided to seek better fortune in India. Before leaving he obtained from Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, a letter of recommendation to Warren Hastings the Indian Governor “Mr. Hickey who is the bearer of this, is a very ingenious young painter who from seeing the success that has attended others, who, with certainly not high pretensions, have made fortunes by their profession in India, wishes to make a trial of his own abilities”. He went on to successfully work as a prolific portraitist to the soldiers, civil servants and merchants of colonial British India and is particularly known for small-scale, elegant oval portraits such as the example offered here.