Born in Baltimore in 1840, Wordsworth Thompson left for Paris in 1861 and studied with several teachers before enrolling in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1864. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1865. During his stay in Europe, he traveled on foot through Italy and Germany before returning to New York City in 1868, where he set up a studio. Thompson exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1868 and became an associate of the Academy in 1875.
Thompson sent paintings to the Philadelphia Centennial and participated in Paris' Exposition Universelle in 1878. He was also a member of the newly organized Society of American Artists.
During his long career Thompson spent eighteen years making trips to Spain, Morocco and Asia Minor where he constantly sketched out of doors. His brilliant color, precise draftsmanship and careful attention to detail and historical fact demonstrate the influence of his European training.