Thomas Alexander Harrison was born and raised in the "Germantown" area of Philadelphia. When he was a young man he spent six years working for the United States Coastal and Geodetic Society, for whom he surveyed the New England, Florida, and Pacific coastlines. This experience guided his interest in art toward marine painting, which began at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a brief period in 1872.
After his Survey job ended in 1877, Harrison commenced his studies in earnest, starting with the San Francisco School of Design and ending at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1881 he exhibited at the Paris Salon, and also became friends with Jules Bastien-Lepage. The latter introduced Harrison to plein-aire painting, which he took to immediately and was soon recognized as the leading artist at the colony of Pont-Avon in Brittany. Though he frequently returned to the United States, and was an active member of arts organizations in Philadelphia and New York, he maintained his ties to Paris—where he died in 1930.
The artist won numerous prizes across the United States and in Paris. Harrison’s works can be found in prestigious institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, IL; the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, TX; the Corcoran Gallery of Art and The White House in Washington, DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Academy of Design Museum in New York, NY; and the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.