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 Thomas John Caparn  (1834 - 1925)

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Lived/Active: New Jersey / England      Known for: painting

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Thomas John Caparn
An example of work by Thomas John Caparn
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Biography and illustrations from Caparn Family collection of Oliver Chamberlain, Jr., great-grandson of Thomas John Caparn.  6/2006:

Thomas John Caparn
artist, horticulturist, businessman

Thomas John Caparn was born at Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire, England, on January 10, 1834.  His father, William Horner Caparn (1804-1872), was a nurseryman and seedsman, owning a large nursery there; he was from a prominent family, several ancestors having included mayors of the town.

Like his father, by 1854 Thomas John Caparn had set up a nursery in Newark on Trent, and by 1869 was furnishing plans for gardens and staff to install them.  He won major awards at English Midlands flower shows and was often a judge at such shows.  He won first prize for a landscape design in the London International Exhibition.  After his father's death in 1872, Thomas John combined the nurseries, which then became one of the largest such enterprises in the Midlands.

Caparn was appointed Actuary of the Savings Bank in Farndon, Nottinghamshire, in 1871.  Two years later he opened a business in Newark as "Professional Accountant, Estate Agent and Trustee in Bankruptcy."  In 1876 he opened another such office in Farndon and after that another in Newark. 

Thomas John showed artistic ability by his teens, sketching people, plants, animals and  natural scenes.  Later he became proficient in watercolors and oils, entering paintings in local and regional shows and offering works for sale.  As recently as 2005, a painting of his was offered at auction in Boca Rotan, Florida.

Caparn appears to have been self-taught, by the method not uncommon at the time, of studying the works of other painters.  Works exist showing that he did paintings after Pyne and Ramsbotham.  He thought enough of the well-known artist George Morland to track two of that artist's watercolors over a period of years in order to acquire them.

Caparn married Ann Elizabeth Price (May 12, 1830-October 12, 1912) of Oundle on August 12, 1863.  Together they had five children, several of whom continued interest in nature and art: Harold ap Rhys, Margaret Jane, Arthur Tom, Annie Smith and Ethel Rose Caroline.

In 1884 he left England and settled in Short Hills, New Jersey, where he established a nursery, and in partnership with his son Arthur Tom, offered landscape designs in isometric proportion and the implementation of such designs.  At the same time, in the next town of Millburn, he offered lessons in drawing and painting as a landscape and marine artist.  His obituary states that he continued painting right up until the time of his death on August 23, 1925, at Summit, New Jersey, aged 91. Caparn's principal subjects were paintings of flowers, seascapes and landscapes especially including fine views of a variety of trees.

As a teacher, he was a mentor to his nephew, William John Caparne (1855-1940), in both horticulture and art.  It is thought that William John added the "e" to the end of his name in order to differentiate himself from his uncle.  William John became widely known for propagating varieties of iris; a medal given anually by the American Iris Society was named after him.  He spent a brief time in France at the invitation of Claude Monet, painting with him and giving him iris for his garden. William John's paintings, in watercolor and gauche, appear in auctions in the United States and the UK; he was honored in 2005 by the island of Guernsey, where he lived, with a set of six stamps using his paintings of flowers on their face.

Thomas John's older son, Harold, opened an office as a landscape architect in New York City in 1902; from 1912 until his death in 1945 he was the consulting landscape architect of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  In 1912 he was president of the American Society of Landscape Architects and lectured at Columbia University.  He was married to Clara Howard (Jones) Royall, a musician and teacher of singing in New York City; their children were Anne Howard Caparn, a writer, and Rhys Caparn, an artist in drawing and sculpture.


Sketchbook, with a sketch signed and dated 1853; Thomas John was age nineteen.

Robin A. Fenner, 2 vols on the life and works of William John Caparne (Tavistock: Stannery Gallery, 1994 and 1998); both volumes include information on Thomas John Caparn.

Millburn newspaper, The Item, 1886, advertisements by Thomas John Caparn; 1925 issue, his obituary.

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