Faed's paintings of orphans, beggars and street vendors were immensely popular. Although his father was a prosperous mill owner in Galloway and the Faed family did not face poverty at close quarters, the rural community in which he was raised offered ample opportunity to witness the plight of the poor and Faed was fascinated by the strenuous existence of those for whom life was hard.
Soon after he graduated from the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh, Faed began to paint historical pictures illustrating subjects from Burns and Scott but he soon realised that genre paintings of more humble, anonymous, domestic drama were more popular.
He exhibited from 1844 in Edinburgh but it was not until 1851 that he showed his first picture at the Royal Academy, a painting entitled Scottish Piety. A year later, he moved to London. Encyclopedia Americana of 1886 wrote of Faed; 'It has been truly said that Thomas Faed has done for Scottish art what Robert Burns did for Scottish song. He has made it attract universal interest and command universal respect.' (Mary McKerrow, The Faeds, A Biography, 1982, p.108). The 1860s and 70s were Thomas Faed's most productive years.
In 1860 Agnew's mounted an exhibition of nine of his works. Such an exhibition was then an unusual tribute to be paid to a living artist.