Thomas Hudson was born in Devon in 1701. He is first recorded as a painter in the records of the Courteney family of Devon in 1728. Three portraits of the Courteneys (untraced) and a St Mary Magdalen are listed in the records. These all date from the late 1720's when he was a pupil of Jonathan Richardson, who became his father-in-law in 1725 after Hudson's marriage to his daughter.
From around 1730 to 1740 Hudson divided his time between the West Country and London, visiting fashionable towns such as Bath. He must have studied the portraits of Van Loo (in London 1737-42), as he succeeded to his fashionable practice in the early 1740's. It was at this time that Hudson established himself as one of the leading portrait painters, producing a more solemn formal style of portrait than his contemporaries Highmore and Hogarth. He devised a series of stock poses, often using the same clothes and jewellery for ladies. He employed Joseph Van Aken (d.1749) and his brother Alexander Van Aken (d.1757) to paint the majority of his draperies. They also worked for Ramsay, Pickering and others making it difficult at times to distinguish between the works of these artists.
In 1748 Hudson travelled to France, Holland and Flanders and to Italy in 1752. The trips influenced his style, and he painted group portraits such as Benn's Club of Aldermen (1752, Goldsmiths, London) that shows the influence of Dutch models. His face-painting technique also became looser and more feathery. Between 1742 and the mid 1750's Hudson was the most fashionable painter in London, his main rival being Ramsay, but in the 1750's his former pupil Joshua Reynolds began to receive commissions from his former patrons. Reynolds style captured much more of the character of his sitters, moving away from the stock poses of Hudson.