. July 14, 2007

Bonhams is selling the medals of Sir William Hamo Thornycroft, one of Britain’s best-known sculptors, whose works stand in places of importance in London, Glasgow, Winchester and Karachi. The sale takes place at Bonhams Knightsbridge saleroom on July 17th.

The collection of 19 medals, awarded for his artistic achievements are estimated to attract bids of between £10,000 to £15,000.

Having won the Royal Academy of Arts’ Gold Medal in 1875 he later received numerous commissions for public monuments through Britain and the Empire, these include the statues of General Gordon (1888), London and Melbourne; Oliver Cromwell (1899), London, outside the Palace of Westminster; King Alfred (1901) Winchester; Curzon Monument (1906), Calcutta); King Edward VII, (1915) Karachi; The Kiss, marble group (1916) The Tate Gallery.

His best-known work perhaps is the chariot-group, Boudicea, Queen of the Iceni and her Daughters, on Westminster Bridge, which was completed from a model by his father and presented to the nation by his brother Sir John Thornycroft.

Sir (William) Hamo Thornycroft was born in London on 9th March 1850, and died on 18th December 1925. He was the second son of Thomas and Mary Thornycroft. He was educated at Macclesfield Grammar School and later University College School, London. His father and mother were distinguished sculptors and it was here he developed his passion for Classical sculpture. He helped his father on the Commerce group for the Albert Memorial (1863-75) and Park Lane Fountain.

His studies continued and he went to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1869, where his primary influence was the painter-sculptor Frederic Leighton. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1875 with the statue Warrior Bearing a Wounded Youth, and he became the leading figure in the movement known as New Sculpture. His close friend, the critic Edmund Gosse coined the term “The New Sculpture” in 1894, and formulated its early principles from his relationship with Thornycroft.

Thornycroft created a series of statues in the ideal genre in the late 1870’s and early 1880s that brought to life classical statue. These included Lot’s Wife (1878), Artemis and her hound (1880 plaster, 1882 marble), the Homeric bowman Teucer (1881 plaster, 1882 bronze), and the Mower (1884 plaster, 1894 bronze), this being the first life-size freestanding statue of a contemporary labourer in 19th Century sculpture.

He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1882 being one of the youngest ever to join the organisation.

In Scotland he produced the public monuments to Peter Denny (1898-1902) Dunbarton, and Sir W.E.Gladstone in Glasgow’s George Square (1899-1902). Thornycroft was an admirer of Gladstone and accepted Glasgow’s commission with eager pleasure after winning a competition against William G. John, Edward O.Ford and George Frampton, and included a further two portraits of Gladstone on the bronze panels on the statue’s pedestal.

These depict Gladstone debating at the House of Commons and felling trees with his wife and children at his Country House in Hawarden. There was a surplus from the statue’s subscription fund and with this he produced a marble bust of Gladstone for Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and was instrumental in the museum obtaining a copy of the British Museum’s bust of Homer as a further tribute to him. Thornycroft produced another statue of Gladstone for the Strand in 1905, and this was part-funded by the Gladstone National Memorial Fund.

He was knighted in 1917. However with time he became reactionary and resistant to the new developments in sculpture, even though it was his work of the early 1880’s that helped catalyse sculpture in the U.K. towards developing new directions. He provided an important transition between the neoclassical and academic styles of the 19th Century and its fin-de-siecle and modernist departures.

In 1919 his marble group Stepping Stones of 1878 was gifted to Glasgow by Captain Wallace and is in the collection of Glasgow Museums. In 1923 he was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal.

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