The English portrait painter Thomas Phillips is best known for his portrayals of ‘men of genius’. After his apprenticeship with a Birmingham glass engraver, Phillips moved to London in 1790 where he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools. Despite his initial preference for history painting, he soon realised that portraiture could earn him a living. Throughout his long career Phillips painted more than 700 portraits. His sitters, many of whom were scientists and writers, included Brunel, Faraday, Byron and four presidents of the Royal Society. In 1808 Phillips was elected a member of the Royal Academy and in 1824 he became its professor of painting, an office which he held until 1832. His ‘Lectures on the History and Principles of Painting’ were published in 1833.