Painter. Although he successfully pursued nearly every type of subject popular in his day, he is remembered especially for charming rural idylls depicting scenes of labor or leisure set within luminous, hilly New England landscapes. Dating to the 1850s, these distinctive views integrating genre and landscape give visual form to the psychological and spiritual benefits of human harmony with nature. His father, Cephas Thompson (1775–1856), a self-taught portrait painter, made his home in his native Middleborough, Massachusetts, south of Boston. Jerome was born there during the years when his father traveled extensively in search of portrait commissions, as he did until 1825. After picking up the fundamentals of painting in the family shop, at seventeen Jerome started practicing professionally in Barnstable, on Cape Cod. By 1835 he was painting portraits in New York. Between 1842 and 1844 he traveled as a portraitist through the South, as had his father. Upon his return to New York, he began to specialize in genre subjects, drawing on precedents in English prints and the work of William Sidney Mount. Between 1852 and 1854 Thompson lived in England, where he augmented his knowledge of both old master and contemporary painting; he seems to have been particularly impressed with current Pre-Raphaelite work. During the next few years, he brought to fruition his original blend of genre and landscape, most often nostalgic scenes of harvest or picnicking. These incorporate his varied interests in the detail of Pre-Raphaelitism, the sentiment of Victorian narrative, and the limpid idealism of Hudson River School views. An extended visit to the Midwest during the early 1860s provided inspiration for later scenes of the region and Indian life. These new interests accompanied a general expansion of Thompson's practice, as his work became more varied, eclectic, and imaginative but also more removed from everyday experience. During the final decades of his career, he produced numerous romantic narratives, allegories, and nudes in a generally looser style than his earlier tightly descriptive technique. His “pencil ballads” illustrating popular songs or poems, such as “The Old Oaken Bucket,” numbered among his works distributed as steel engravings or chromolithographs to an appreciative mass audience. In 1884 Thompson bought an estate in northern New Jersey's Glen Gardner, where he died. His wife, painter Marie May Tupper Thompson (?–1926), nicknamed Minnie, worked primarily as a portraitist. After they married in 1876, she collaborated with him on some likenesses. Following his death she continued to work professionally under his name, even though she remarried.
A brother and a sister also became artists. Cephas Giovanni Thompson (1809–88) was known particularly for portraits and Italian scenes, but he also painted genre and historical subjects. Like Jerome, he was born in Middleborough and initially trained by his father. At eighteen he established a portrait practice in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He subsequently worked in Boston, where he studied with David Claypoole Johnston, in Philadelphia, and elsewhere before arriving in New York in 1837. There he flourished for a decade as a fashionable portrait painter. Spring (Metropolitan Museum, 1838), a softly romantic, idealized portrait of a young woman, exemplifies his most appealing strengths. In 1847 he moved to New Bedford for two years and then lived in Boston before sailing to Europe. He resided for most of the 1850s in Rome. In 1859 he returned permanently to New York but continued to produce Italian subjects during the remainder of his career. Also born in Middleborough and trained by her father, Marietta Tintoretto Thompson (1803–92) became a portraitist who specialized in miniatures. Along with her brothers, she settled in New York in the mid-1830s. She died in Raynham, not far from her birthplace.