Wright, Thomas Jefferson (1798–1846)

By: Pauline A. Pinckney

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: April 4, 2019

Jefferson Wright, portrait painter, son of a Welsh tailor, was born at Mount Sterling, Kentucky, in 1798. Little is known of his art training, although at the age of twenty-four he met the great American portraitist Thomas Sully through a letter of introduction from his friend Matthew H. Jouett. It is possible that he studied with these two older artists in their studios in Philadelphia. Wright's portraiture is rather stiff and two-dimensional. If he actually studied under Sully there is no evidence of that training in his work. Until 1833 he was a portrait painter in Virginia. In the spring of 1837 Wright came to Texas and announced in a Houston newspaper his intention of painting portraits for the citizens of that city. Advertising and the influential friendship of Sam Houston, whose portrait he painted, brought him commissions from many prominent political figures, among them Juan N. Seguin, Erastus (Deaf) Smith and Dr. Thomas Chalkley. Wright became one of the founders of the local Masonic order in Houston, along with Sam Houston, Thomas Weston, and Anson Jones. Wright served briefly as an Indian agent. When the artist was at the height of his popularity in the early 1840s, he temporarily lost some patronage when he sketched some politicians in uncomplimentary positions, implying that they straddled issues. In late 1842 his portrait work was interrupted by a period of active military duty. Wright was a member of the Somervell expedition, but when this episode was over he returned to East Texas and resumed painting portraits. In his twelve years in Texas he painted portraits of the heroes of the republic in a simple, vigorous manner. In May 1846 he returned to his home in Kentucky for a visit; he became ill and died there. His works are represented in the California Historical Society at San Francisco and at the Texas State Library in Austin.

Pauline A. Pinckney, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Indian Agents
  • Politics and Government

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Pauline A. Pinckney, “Wright, Thomas Jefferson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wright-thomas-jefferson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 4, 2019