Robinson, Thomas (c.1767–1810), portrait painter, was born near Lake Windermere, Westmorland, England; nothing else is known of his family background. Educated locally, he displayed an early aptitude for art and around 1785 his talent caught the eye of John Christian Curwen, agricultural reformer and future MP for Carlisle. Impressed with Robinson's ability, Curwen persuaded the artist George Romney to take him as a pupil, and Robinson studied under Romney for a number of years. Invited to Ireland, Robinson was much in demand and he painted a greatly admired portrait of Barry Yelverton (qv) in Dublin in 1790. Imitating the style of Romney, it was done in brilliant colours with an emphasis on the dramatic aspects of Yelverton's features. In 1792 Robinson published a folio of this picture engraved on copperplate paper; it was claimed that this was ‘the first paper of the kind ever manufactured in Ireland’ (Dublin Chronicle, 1 Feb. 1792). Prevented from travelling because of a serious illness, he decided to remain in Ireland and advertised his services as a portrait painter. His rates were twenty guineas (£21.00) for a full-length work, ten for a half-length, and four for a head.
In 1793 Robinson moved to Laurencetown, in the parish of Gillford, Co. Down, where he lived for about three years. Around 1796 he moved to Lisburn, Co. Antrim, where he resided during the 1798 rebellion. His painting ‘Combat between the king's troops and the peasantry at Ballinahinch’, popularly known as ‘The battle of Ballinahinch’, is believed to be the only contemporary artistic depiction of the rebellion. Ostensibly it is an unambiguously loyalist work, but a more thorough examination reveals significant details that are sympathetic to the rebel side. The painting is now considered to be an important part of the iconography of the 1798 rebellion. It was won by the 2nd marquess of Hertford (qv) in a subscribers' raffle in 1799, and now hangs in the Council of State room in Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin.
Moving to Belfast in 1801, Robinson painted his most important work there, ‘A military procession in honour of Lord Nelson’ (1804). This contained portraits of some of the leading figures in Belfast society and was originally intended as a representation of the Belfast Volunteers and yeomanry being reviewed by Lord Hardwicke (qv); he only included a statue of Nelson to increase public interest. Benefiting from the patronage of Bishop Thomas Percy (qv) of Dromore, for whom he painted ‘A group at Dromore palace in 1807’, he soon became a wealthy man. Returning to Dublin in 1808, he was elected president of the Society of Artists and had two successful exhibitions, winning praise for his portrait of Sir Richard Jebb (qv), the head of which had been painted by Romney. Despite his growing reputation, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the mastership of the Dublin Society's school in 1809. He died 27 July 1810 at his home at 7 Jervis St. He married (c.1791) Ruth Buck; they had one son, Thomas Romney Robinson (qv), astronomer and mathematician.