1808 – 1890
John Hunter Thompson was a friend of Branwell Bronte and both were taught art by William Robinson of Leeds. Thompson and Branwell were members of a group of struggling Bradford artists and writers who met regularly for drinking sessions in the George Hotel.
Thompson, unlike Branwell Bronte, was a hard-working artist and made a reasonable living painting portraits from his studio in Bradford, and there is evidence that he helped Branwell complete an unflattering portrait of Mrs Isaac Kirby, Branwell’s landlady, who Branwell found ‘vinegary’. Branwell paid Thompson to finish and varnish the work, writing to Thompson, ” I would give the amount contained in this letter, or twice it, to silence her chattering”.
Thompson painted a portrait of Charlotte Bronte, now on display in the Parsonage Museum at Haworth (see image below) and his work was featured in an exhibition of the work of Branwell Bronte and his artistic associates at Cartwright Hall, Bradford, October 1994 – January 1995.
Thompson is also believed to be the artist responsible for a painting of a young woman wearing a straw bonnet held in place by a silk scarf (see image below) that was thought to be of Emily Bronte. The painting came up for auction in Northampton in 2011 and was believed to have been painted in the 1840s. On the back was written “Emily Bronte – Sister of Charlotte B… Currer Bell”, and on the backing paper: “Emily Bronte/Sister of Charlotte Bronte/Ellis Bell”. However, Ann Dinsdale, Collections Manager for the Bronte Society felt there was insufficient evidence that it was a true portrait of Emily.