Jones, Sir Thomas Alfred (1823?–1893), painter, was of unknown parentage. He was found and brought up by the philanthropic Archdale family of Kildare Place, Dublin. He began his artistic studies in 1833 in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society and entered TCD on 14 October 1842. Though his father's name appears in the college records as Thomas Jones, there is no evidence as to his identity. He left the college without taking his degree, and from 1843 to 1846 he travelled in Europe, extending his artistic training. On his return to Dublin he began to establish himself as a painter. Initially he produced small watercolour portraits, a form very popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, and subject paintings in the same medium. These early watercolours, in both technique and subject matter, show the influence of the English pre-Raphaelite movement. A good example of this is ‘A prayer for the absent’ (NGI), which refers to the Crimean war and depicts a mother with a newspaper open on her lap and her child beside her. The cheerful and uncomprehending expression of the child highlights the contrasting anxiety and yet emotional restraint of the mother who has obviously read worrying news of the war.
Jones exhibited for the first time at the RHA in 1841 with ‘The vision of the kings; a scene from Macbeth’. Though by the 1850s he had established himself as a successful portrait painter, he continued to deal with such literary themes throughout his career, taking subjects from Shakespeare, Dante, and Tennyson. Irish subject matter also featured in his oeuvre, often treated quite sentimentally, as titles such as ‘Molly Macree’ (NGI) and ‘The colleen dhu’ (1861) suggest. In succession to the older artist Stephen Catterson Smith (qv), he became the most sought-after painter in Dublin from the 1850s. The list of his sitters encompasses many of the leading political, professional, and social figures of his day. He himself soon became part of Dublin's artistic establishment, being elected a member of the RHA in 1860. In June 1869, on the retirement of Catterson Smith, he was elected president of the academy, and in April 1880 was knighted by the lord lieutenant, the duke of Marlborough (qv). He was the first president of the academy to be so honoured (the distinction was later conferred on his successor, Thomas Farrell (qv)). This honour no doubt added to his popularity as a fashionable portrait painter.
However, despite his standing as an artist in his own lifetime, his artistic reputation has declined since his death, with the prevailing view being that his pictures are poor in execution and lack real artistic merit. He died 10 May 1893 at his home, 41 Morehampton Road, Dublin. He married first Susan Lucinda (d. 1876), daughter of William Casey of Seafield, Co. Clare, with whom he had a son, Alfred; secondly, Florence Mary (d. 1894), daughter of Henry Quinan. On his death he was remembered particularly for his dedication as president of the academy, as a governor of the RIAM, and for his courteous and diplomatic manner, attributes no doubt of great value to a portrait painter.