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As a reaction from the season of gloom and industrial strife that had just passed away the agencies that purvey and stage-manage sensations laid themselves out to do their level best on this momentous occasion. Men who had made their reputations as special descriptive writers were mobilised from distant corners of Europe and the further side of the Atlantic in order to enrich with their pens the daily printed records of the case; one word-painter, who specialised in descriptions of how witnesses turn pale under cross-examination, was summoned hurriedly back from a famous and prolonged murder trial in Sicily, where indeed his talents were being decidedly wasted. Thumb-nail artists and expert kodak manipulators were retained at extravagant salaries, and special dress reporters were in high demand. An enterprising Paris firm of costume builders presented the defendant Duchess with three special creations, to be worn, marked, learned, and extensively reported at various critical stages of the trial; and as for the cinematograph agents, their industry and persistence was untiring.

from East of the Web

What do thumb-nail artists do?

Do they paint small pictures?

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A thumbnail sketches are " quick, abbreviated drawings, usually done very rapidly and with no corrections [...] Thumbnail sketches usually are very small, often only an inch or two high." (thoughtco.com)

A thumbnail artist is one who creates thumbnail sketches. In the context given this would be to draw sketches of the participants in the court battle described in the story. Generally, in the UK, photography and drawing is not permitted inside a court, but an artist can create a sketch from memory after they leave.

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