Thomas Kershaw (1819-1898), began his career as a painter and decorator in Bolton, Lancashire, with a nine year apprenticeship at the age of twelve with Mr. John Platt. Immediately afterward he relocated to London, where his fame had preceded him, and accepted employment with Messrs William Cubitt. However, in the mid-1840s, Kershaw decided he wanted to establish himself independently and exhibited as such in the Great London Exhibition of 1851, where he won the first prize and was offered commissions for the imperial palaces of St. Petersburg (though he would decline these). His fame spread to the continent and in 1855 he exhibited at the Exposition Universelle at Paris, where his talents “required a practical demonstration to convince sceptical [sic.] critics that the works shown were painted representations and not panels of the real woods and marbles.”1
Kershaw became known as the “Prince of Grainers & Marblers.” His ability to reproduce marbles, woods, and other natural materials in paint was unmatched, and the imitations were further advanced by his development of special tools, paints and techniques. He carried out public demonstrations for his critics who had no choice but to concede inferiority. A group of 700 French painters for whom he performed had this to say in “Le Journal de Manuell de Painteurers” Sept. 15, 1855: “We regret that our inferiority to the Englishman is incontestable, and have to acknowledge that his panels must be regarded as masterpieces.”2
In addition to the interiors and columns carried out by Kershaw, he executed a series of painted panels like the present set, which can be found in Bolton Museum & Art Gallery. There is also a closely related set of faux marble panels by Thomas Kershaw in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which were donated by his heirs in 1898 to The Worshipful Comany of Painter-Stainers, of which Kershaw was a liveryman for thirty-eight years.
1. Parry, John P., Brian Rhodes, and John Windsor. Parry’s Graining and Marbling. London: Blackwell Science Ltd., 1995.