Peerless was a talented and intrepid Australian professional artist of the colonial era. Hardworking and entrepreneurial, his career was cut short by death at age 38. Based in Sydney where he had his studio, Peerless travelled extensively to paint watercolour landscapes, in particular to the Blue Mountains in NSW and to New Zealand in 1884 and 1889.
Thomas Peerless is represented in the Manly Art Gallery in Australia and in the Auckland Art Gallery and the Hocken Collection, Otago, in New Zealand. He is best known for his scenes of New Zealand which form the majority of his paintings. His Australian landscapes are relatively scarce.
In a review of his work, The Telegraph, Brisbane, wrote in 1896:
Those whose taste is more in the direction of landscape will find in the works of Mr. Peerless food for dreamy reflection. Mr. Peerless is most successful in the atmospheric effect he introduces into the pictures, and as one looks into them, the further one can see, and the longer one wants to look.
1858 Born 18 March in Brighton, U.K.
Eldest son of David John Peerless (1935-1903), a timber merchant, and
Emily Marshall Peerless nee Pockney (1834-1890).
One of 13 children, two of whom died at age three.
1880 Immigrated to Australia.
1882 Married 11 January, to Mary Elizabeth McNeilly (1862-1956) at St Mary’s Church, Balmain, Sydney.
1883 Listed in Sands Directory as Peerless, T, artist, Gipps St, Balmain.
April and May – Scenery painter and set designer, Melbourne.
Sailing from Sydney to Melbourne on 24 February on the Leura, Peerless worked for two months with the Rosa Towers Dramatic Company on eight different productions at the Bijou Theatre, Bourke St.
First painting trip to New Zealand. During his trips to New Zealand he mainly painted the spectacular scenery of the South Island. He also painted a few North Island scenes that depicted maori.
September, Peerless exhibited two of his recent New Zealand watercolours in the window of Paling’s music store, George St, Sydney
October, Peerless instigated the Anglo – Australian Art Union, for the distribution of 35 of his watercolour paintings of scenes in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The ‘beautifully mounted and handsomely framed. The works had a total value of £300 and Peerless sold 300 tickets at £1 each.
1886 Listed in Sands Directory as
Peerless, Thomas, artist, 472 George St [Sydney]
12 January, Peerless’s studio was destroyed by fire
A fire occurred in a top room occupied by Mr Peerless, artist, over Stafford’s, the hatter, in George St [Sydney] yesterday, and but for the quick arrival of the fire brigade the block of buildings would have been destroyed. The room was gutted.
The Telegraph, Brisbane, 13 Jan 18th.
At some time following the loss of his Sydney studio, Peerless and his family moved to Melbourne, Victoria, to Mary Street, St Kilda.
Annual rate book records show Thomas Peerless, artist, at this address in December 1886 and 1887.
1888-89 Included in the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne, Peerless
exhibited New Zealand landscapes.
1889 Second painting trip to New Zealand.
1890 October, Peerless filed for bankruptcy in NSW.
During the period 1890-93 Australia suffered its worst-ever economic
depression, greater than that of the 1930s. Times were hard for artists.
1891 Listed in Sands Directory as
Peerless, Thomas, artist, 46 Botany St [?]
1892 Listed in Sands Directory as
Pearless [sic], Thomas, artist, 270 Victoria St [Darlinghurst]
1893 Listed in Sands Directory for these three years as
1894 Peerless, Thomas, 56 Womerah Ave [Darlinghurst]
1896 Died 30 April in Albury, NSW, aged 38.
Buried 2 May, at Rookwood Necropolis.
1896 August, Brisbane, posthumous exhibition of NZ works
Report in The Telegraph (Brisbane) 22 August
Mr. Aldenhoven’s Exhibition
Mr. Aldenhoven, who has during the past few weeks been showing in the Royal Arcade, Queen Street, the finest collection of works of art that has ever been brought to Brisbane, announces in another column that his stay here must terminate on the 29th instant. All who have not yet seen the beautiful pictures of New Zealand scenery, by the late Thomas Peerless, now on view, should not lose this opportunity, for they are rapidly passing into private hands. Since they have come under notice of art collectors in England there has set in a great demand for the pictures, and their value has been doubled within the last few weeks.
Thanks to Deb Sims for compiling this interesting information.