Thomas Robert Way, a printer, lithographer and painter, was the son of the lithographic printer Thomas Way.
Way and his father were extremely important for the revival of the art of lithography in Britain. Lithography, then widely used for the cheap commercial reproduction of images, had been neglected as a form of artist expression. In 1878, influenced by the Ways, Whistler made his first experiments in lithography. The Ways explained the lithographic process to Whistler and prepared his stones. From 1884 onwards Whistler produced a large number of lithographs which were printed and eventually catalogued by Way. Whistler's lithographs were generally made on lithographic paper and transferred by Way to the stone. In an article in the Saturday Review in December 1896 Walter Sickert questioned the authenticity of this technique, specifically in relation to the work of Joseph Pennell. At the resulting libel trial Whistler stood as principal witness and Way gave evidence.
In 1880 Way and his father helped Whistler with the printing of his Venice etchings at Air Street, Regent Street, these premises having been taken by the Fine Art Society as a workshop for Whistler.
The Ways also were involved in the printing of publicity for Whistler. In 1877 they printed a pamphlet to accompany Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178), and in 1881 they printed the catalogue for the Fine Art Society's exhibition of Whistler's Venice pastels. Way also made lithographic copies of Whistler's work, e.g. Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101), Maud Franklin (YMSM 132), A Venetian canal (M.754). Whistler himself attempted to make a lithographic copy of Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (YMSM 398) because he did not like the reproduction made in the Art Journal, but it was unsuccessful.
Thomas Way senior was one of Whistler's chief creditors at his bankruptcy in 1879 and acquired at that time by means of a picture dealer some thirty paintings. Ten large canvases, ten small canvases and seven blank canvases were returned to Whistler as part of the Ways' final settlement with him on 10 August 1897, following T. R. Way's quarrel with Whistler in 1896 over the publication of Way's catalogue of Whistler's lithographs. However, Way did not return all of Whistler's pictures. He passed on Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' (YMSM 74), Study of a Female Figure (YMSM 81), The White Symphony: Three Girls (YMSM 87), Venus Rising from the Sea (YMSM 93), Maud Franklin (YMSM 132), Cremorne Gardens, No. 2 (YMSM 164) and Portrait Sketch of a Lady (YMSM 184) to his son. Thomas R. Way also owned a large number of Whistler drawings, pastels and watercolours, some of which had been bought by his father at the time of the artist's bankruptcy. Thomas R. Way later sold a significant number to C. L. Freer, E. G. Kennedy and Pickford Waller.
Way, Thomas R., Mr. Whistler's Lithographs: The Catalogue, London, 1896; Way, Thomas R., 'Mr Whistler as Lithographer', Studio, vol. 30, December 1903, pp. 10-21; Way, T. R., and G. R. Dennis, The Art of James McNeill Whistler: An Appreciation, London, 1903; Way, T. R., Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the Artist, London and New York, 1912; Stratis, Harriet K., and Martha Tedeschi, The Lithographs of James McNeill Whistler, Chicago, c1998; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995.