Marine painter John Thomas Serres was the son and pupil of the French-born, former prisoner-of-war, Dominic Serres (1722-1793) also a marine painter. His career began with landscape painting producing work in both oils and watercolour which later progressed into sea-pieces of the European tradition.
Serres moved to Liverpool between 1796 and 1798. He resided in a house belonging to engraver and painter Moses Haughton (baptized 1735 - 1804), and subsequently his son Matthew Haughton (baptized 1766 - 1821), also an artist and engraver. While in Liverpool he published 4 etched views of the port and held an exhibition of his naval pictures. In 1799 a sale was held in Liverpool by dealer Thomas Vernon including many of Serres's views of Liverpool, Manchester and Italy. A sketch book of views from Seacombe and Woodside, Birkenhead of October 1796 - March 1797 is in the Liverpool City Central Library.
Serres travelled extensively spending time in Paris in 1789 and Naples and Rome between 1790-1791. He succeeded his father to the office of Marine Painter to George III in 1793. Serres became Marine Draughtsman to the Admiralty in 1800, making drawings and elevations of the west coasts of France and Spain. He was also a drawing instructor at the Chelsea Naval School in London. Inspired by Claude Lorrain's (1604/5-1682) 'Liber Veritatis' he published the 'Liber Nauticus, and Instructor in the Art of Marine Drawing' (1805-6).
By 1808, Serres had experienced financial difficulties. He was imprisoned in Edinburgh for debt in 1818. Unable to act as official draughtsman on the royal visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822 he still managed to record the event with a series of watercolours. He died in debtors' prison in 1825.