Reynolds' Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen
, the clothing painted by Toms.
Toms was the son of an engraver, William Henry Toms, of Masham Street, Westminster. Apprenticed to the portraitist Thomas Hudson, he became a drapery-painter, and worked for Francis Cotes for several years. After Cotes' death, he was employed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West and John Zoffany amongst others. He also held the post of Port Culis Pursuivant. at the College of Heralds.
According to Edward Edwards:
Among the pictures which he did for Sir Joshua, are some very excellent; and candour must allow, that many of Sir Joshua's best whole-lengths are those, to which Toms painted the draperies: Among these was the picture of Lady Elizabeth Keppel, in the dress she wore as bride-maid to the Queen ; for which he was paid the sum of twelve guineas, a very slender price in proportion to the merit of the piece, but Sir Joshua was not remarkably liberal upon these occasions, of which circumstance Mr. Toms did not neglect to complain.
James Northcote, though he considered Toms "a very good drapery painter" felt that his rather heavy manner was out of sympathy with Reynolds' style.
Toms was a foundation member of the Royal Academy in 1768. He exhibited three works at the academy: "An allegorical picture". in 1769, "A portrait; half length" in 1779 and "The burdock and other wild plants; a specimen of a work to be published" in 1771.
Despite his success as a drapery painter, his heavy drinking and a lack of prudence in other respects, kept him poor, and prevented his advancement in the College of Heralds. He attempted suicide by cutting his own throat; the wound did not however prove fatal and he survived for several years, dying in poverty at his lodging in Rathbone Place in London, on 1 January 1777. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.
He married Mary, daughter of Robert Hogg, of Kincardine. She died about three years before him, and was buried at Marylebone, the parish in which he lived many years.