Sir William Hamo Thornycroft
Signed Hamo Thornycroft ARA SC 1884
Numbered 11 four times on the base
Bronze with dark and light brown patination
Height: 23 1/4" (59 cm)
Conceived in 1881 and cast in 1884
An exponent of the British ‘New School’ of sculpture, Sir William Hamo Thornycroft was a great inspiration to many other artists of his day.
He was born in London in 1850, the son of sculptors Thomas and Mary Thornycroft. Encouraged by the family’s continuous engagement with the arts, he entered the Royal Academy at the age of nineteen, while working in his father’s workshop. His great admiration for the Elgin Marbles inspired his first visit to Italy in 1871, where the ruins of the Classical past were mingled with, translated and channelled by the work of the great sculptors of the Renaissance. Thornycroft’s encounter with Donatello’s work in Florence proved particularly proficuous in the development of the artist’s own language and career.
After his return to England in 1872, Thornycroft’s work was exhibited at the RA for the first time; he was only twenty years old. This date signals the beginning of the artist’s long-standing relationship with the Academy, its teachers and students. In fact, ten years later, Thornycroft started holding courses at the RA. He ceased to teach there in 1914, after over thirty years of service.
In the course of this time, the artist’s fame grew, receiving numerous public commissions, including the memorials to Gladstone (The Strand), to Oliver Cromwell (House of Commons, Westminster) and to General Charles Gordon (originally erected in Trafalgar Square). He was knighted in 1917 and won the RBS Gold Medal in 1923, two years prior to his death. A joint memorial exhibition of his work was held with Francis Derwent Wood at the Royal Academy in 1927.
Amongst Thornycroft’s most notable works is the Mower, which was exhibited as a lifesize bronze at the Royal Academy in 1884, and is currently part of the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool.
Thornycroft first conceived the idea for the Mower as he was boating down the river Thames, catching sight of a young farmer resting along the banks of the river. The sight greatly inspired the artist, who began to quickly sketch the figure. In a letter to his fiancé Agatha Cox, he wrote:
‘He will keep his hat on and carry his shirt on his right arm along with the scythe. A brace will pan over his left shoulder, which will take off the nude look and connect the hat with the breeches somewhat. This gives the hang of the shirt. It is a great help in solidifying the composition and supporting the scythe’.
When it was first displayed, the Mower was perceived as a pioneering sculpture for its subject-matter; this is arguably the first life-sized, free-standing statue of a contemporary labourer in nineteenth-century European sculpture. However, the rural figure is not represented as a ‘hero of labour’, in the way that made his counterparts in France famous, but rather as an image of sheer youthful beauty, thus recalling the Arcadian poetics of the Classical tradition.
Thornycroft produced several wax studies for the work, the earliest of which dates to 1881. The dating of this particular bronze model is 1884, as the inscription on the base suggests. At that time, Thornycroft was already an Associate Member of the Royal Academy, and his abbreviated title, ARA, is inscribed immediately after the name. Finally, the ‘SC’, which is usually an abbreviation for the Latin formula ‘sculpsit’ (‘he sculpted’) features immediately before the date 1884 on the base, further validating the dating of the piece.
H. Thornycroft, Oliver Cromwell Memorial
J.A. Dalou, Grand Paysan, 1902