Thomas Frederick Luppino: a local artist

Thomas Frederick Luppino (17491845) was a well-respected theatrical scene designer and painter who worked in the British theatre for over 50 years, including at Covent Garden and Drury Lane in London. Throughout his life he produced many sketches and other artistic works, not all of which seem to have survived, but there is one notable exception − a sketchbook containing over a hundred sketches of Hertford and Ware, and the nearby surrounding area. From 1903 this was held in the former County Museum in St Albans before being transferred to St Albans Library some years later. In 1989 the sketchbook was conserved and rebound, and in 2003 it was transferred again to HALS (Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies) in Hertford.

The sketches

Most of the sketches were done in black-and-white line and wash, although there are also several in sepia or watercolour, and the majority show spontaneity of style and Thomas Frederick’s interest in architectural detail. They were originally done on separate pieces of paper, a number of them quite small, but at some point in the early 1870s they were collected together and pasted into a 56-page landscape-format sketchbook. They vary in size from c. 12 x 15 cm (4¾ x 6 in) to c. 15 x 20 cm (6 x 8 in), or slightly larger in each case, and while some were dated and identified, many lacked this information initially. However, further information was added, where possible, when the sketchbook changed hands at later dates. It is possible that Thomas Frederick was sketching in the Hertford area as early as 1780, approximately, and likely that he continued to do so until about 1834.

The subjects of the sketches range from views of some of the great mansions of Hertfordshire to churches, inns, mills, farms, schools and general street scenes. Interestingly, however, virtually none of his sketches includes people − probably because, as a scene painter, he did not need to include figures in the designs he created for the theatre. Just one sketch, entitled Wadesmill Fair, from the north, features a crowd of people.

It is not certain whether any of Thomas Frederick’s sketches of Hertford and Ware formed the basis for some of his theatrical scenery, or whether he sketched in this area just for pleasure, but whatever the reason for the sketches they provide an interesting visual record of many of the towns and villages within a radius of about 15 miles of Hertford and Ware as they appeared in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  A selection of these sketches, focusing specifically on Hertford and Ware, is shown in the gallery below.

The Luppino family

Luppino family connections with Hertfordshire go back for several generations and while there is no evidence to confirm that Thomas Frederick was born in Hertford or lived in the town for much of his working life, it is known that he was a resident there in his later years − probably by c. 1820 and certainly by 1830. He clearly had a long-standing interest in the locality, however, given the number of sketches he made of the town and the surrounding area.

Interestingly, another member of the Luppino family was also a person of note locally. Thomas William (1790−1859), who was Thomas Frederick’s grandson, was a talented musician, best known as the organist and choir master of St Mary’s church in Ware. As a young boy he started his musical education in London, learning both the violin and the piano, before becoming a music teacher and concert promoter in Hertford, and subsequently taking up his roles in Ware. He moved to Hertford in 1808 to work with Charles Bridgeman, who was for many years the organist of All Saints’ church in Hertford, and Thomas William married in this church in 1813. He and his wife remained in Hertford for the rest of their lives together.

If you wish to consult the original sketchbook at HALS, the reference number is DE/X1039/1. There is also a much fuller account of the lives and work of both Thomas Frederick Luppino and his grandson, Thomas William, in Derek Forbes’ comprehensive book The Artist and the Organist: the Luppinos of Hertford and Ware, a reference copy of which can be found in the Local Studies Library at HALS.


This page was added on 03/08/2022.

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