Thomas Shotter Boys was born in Pentonville, London, on 2 January 1803, the son of a salesman. He was apprenticed to the engraver, George Cooke, between 1817 and 1823, and his training in printmaking had an influence on the development of his lucid style of watercolour. Though exhibiting at the Society of British Artists from 1824 (until 1858), he moved to Paris, where he met Richard Parkes Bonington, as well as the Fielding brothers and William Callow.
As Bonington’s friend and protégé, Boys entered an influential artistic circle that included the painter, Eugène Delacroix, and the young writer, Prosper Merimée. While Bonington encouraged him to concentrate on watercolours, so he, in turn, may have given lessons in etching to Bonington and the landscape painter, Paul Huet. He exhibited four designs, as engraved by Cooke, at the Paris Salon of 1827-28.
When revolution broke out in Paris in 1830, Boys retreated to London, but returned to the French capital a year later. He soon showed himself – on both sides of the English Channel – to be Bonington’s closest follower. He exhibited at the Salon again from 1833, and at the New Society of Painters in Water Colours from 1832 (becoming an associate in 1840, and full member in 1841). He also passed on aspects of the Bonington style directly to his pupils, notably Callow, with whom he shared his studio at 19 rue du Bouloy..
Boys was in Paris at a time when British printmakers were in demand. In addition to his abilities as an etcher, he took lessons in lithography, either at Godefroy Engelmann’s Imprimerie Lithographique, or from one of the English artists working for the publisher, J F d’Ostervald. Ever aware of the potential relationship between painting and printmaking, he considered lithography, in particular, as ‘painting on stone’. He put his newly learned skills to good use, from 1833, in his contributions to the Picardie and Langeudoc volumes of Baron Isidore Taylor’s Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France.
Returning to London in 1837 with a large number of watercolours, Boys set about making chromolithographs of them, which Charles Hullmandel published together, two years later, as Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen, etc. A technically innovative achievement, the project brought him a degree of international fame. Original Views of London as It Is (1842) proved equally popular.
However, by 1850, Boys was past his peak. He attempted to revive his work as a painter by taking sketching tours, but had to find work as a drawing master and reproductive printmaker. One significant late patron was John Ruskin, for whom Boys prepared the etching plates for Modern Painters and the lithographs for The Stones of Venice.