English painter and engraver. From 1765 to 1771 Hearne studied printmaking as apprentice to the landscape engraver William Woollett. In 1771 he abandoned engraving and accompanied Sir Ralph Payne to the Leeward Islands (where Payne had just been appointed Governor), returning in 1775; several of his fastidious watercolours of Antigua survive. From then on British topography was his main concern. He travelled widely in England, Scotland and Wales with Sir George Beaumont and from these excursions was able to provide 84 drawings which, engraved by William Byrne, were published as The Antiquities of Great Britain (1778–81). This series set new standards in the pictorial recording of medieval architecture. Hearne also provided drawings for etchings of landscapes and ‘rural sports'. For Richard Payne Knight he executed a number of watercolours based on sketches taken on Knight's tour of Italy; later he recorded the newly landscaped grounds of Knight's estate at Downton, and illustrated the principles of landscape gardening put forward in Knight's didactic poem The Landscape (1794).
Hearne usually worked in wash or subdued watercolours over a fine but clear outline introduced in pencil, pen or brushpoint. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1785 and 1793, but subsequently relied on a few loyal collectors, notably Dr Thomas Monro, at whose house in Adelphi Terrace, London, works by (or after) Hearne were copied by younger artists such as Thomas Girtin and Turner. Unlike them, however, Hearne maintained his precise and judicious manner of tinted drawing until his death.
Thomas Hearne, 1744–1817: Watercolours and Drawings (exh. cat., ed. D. Morris and B. Milner; Bolton, Mus. & A.G., 1985)