Moreton House

"Artists' Homes No. 13. Mr. Hamo Thornycroft's Residence & Studios, Melbury Road, Kensington."

Hamo Thornycroft's studio-home, from M. Adams, Artists' Houses, 1883

Bust of John Belcher, R.A.

H. Thornycroft, Bust of John Belcher, R.A., 1881

"Artists' Homes No. 13. Mr. Hamo Thornycroft's Residence & Studios, Melbury Road, Kensington."

Moreton House, plans, from Maurice Adams, Artists' Houses, 1883

In May 1877, Thornycroft’s artistic family--comprising his parents, both sculptors, and three of his sisters, Alyce, Helen, and Theresa--settled at Moreton House (named for the family's ancestral home in Cheshire), a structure designed by Hamo's lifelong friend, the architect John Belcher (1841–1913). It was one of a pair of semi-detached houses: No. 2 for the Thornycrofts, and No. 4 to be let, originally to Mr. and Mrs. Russell Barrington, on the recommendation of another Melbury Road resident, George Frederick Watts. From the garden, the Thornycrofts had a view of Val Prinsep's house and the roof of Frederic Leighton's Arab Hall, and often met their neighbor Marcus Stone.

Unlike many studio-houses of this period, Thornycroft's residence and working quarters were clearly separated, with a southwest wing housing the large sculpture studio along with several smaller ones for other members of the artistic family. The plan of this complex building was essentially a collaboration between Thornycroft and Belcher, with the special needs of the sculptor guiding the design. "One of the necessary features to a sculptor's studio," wrote the architect Maurice Adams in 1883, "is, of course, a side entrance, through which large blocks of marble and loads of clay, or big models, may be brought in. This, in the present instance, has been very cleverly contrived at the side from the Melbury Road by a passage-way taken out of Mrs. Thornycroft's studio, behind the statuary gallery on the ground floor, and under Miss Thornycroft's painting studio above." Moreover, the studio had to be placed at some distance from the house, "due to the dusty nature of the work to be done there; in fact, it is the dust which renders it a difficult matter to treat a sculptor's studio with any degree of finish or decorative character." This was accomplished with a "prettily-arranged conservatory"--a glass-enclosed passageway brimming with flowers--which kept the dusty studio separate from the residence itself.[1]

Hamo Thornycroft's home: the sculpture gallery

The sculpture gallery, 1883

Thornycroft's "studio" actually comprised three or four. The first, Thornycroft's private studio, marked by a horseshoe over the door, is the setting for his portrait in Artists at Home. This “sanctum,” where Thornycroft conceived and modelled his sculptures in clay, was naturally cluttered with models for his principal works, as well as sculpture made by his grandfather, John Francis Thornycroft, and his parents. The adjoining room was the "carving studio," crowded with plaster casts, in which pupils and assistants worked on major monuments. In the outer yard, huge blocks of marble leaned against a wall while workmen chipped away. Thornycroft also had a small, personal room outside of his studio where he could obtain better light from a high lancet window, and a gallery (Thornycroft Hall of Fame) for his finished works, thereby keeping his working and public life separate while avoiding the aspect of a commercial establishment.

Hamo Thornycroft's home: the dining room

The dining room, 1883

The dining room featured a long window, allowing for views of the English sunsets. Thornycroft’s love of nature and the outdoors was reflected in his expansive garden on the property. A set of large doors allowed him to take his works outdoors to obtain optimal light for working. A balcony was also built for Thornycroft, who would frequently sketch or read al fresco. Above the door to the garden, a frieze--sculpted by Thornycroft while the cement was wet during the building process--illustrates the process of making a sculpture.[2] 

After his marriage in 1885 to Agatha Cox, Hamo Thornycroft moved out of his family’s home to the comparatively modest, Belcher-designed residence he had built next door at 2A Melbury Road and let out No. 2--apart from the studios.

Vanessa Pike

 

[1] Maurice Bingham Adams, Artists Homes; a Portfolio of Drawings including the Houses and Studios of Several Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (London: B. T. Batsford, 1883), 7-8.

[2] Helen Zimmern, “A Sculptor’s Home,” The Magazine of Art, 6 (1883): 512-18.

 

<em>Hamo Thornycroft</em>

Photograph of Hamo Thornycroft in his studio, c. 1889, by Ralph Winwood Robinson

Mr. Thornycroft's sanctum . . . is spacious--thirty-five feet in length--and the sloping roof is high; but being somewhat full it scarcely gives the idea of its size. Here, too, the walls are tinted the same Pompeian red. But the principal first impression is that here the workshop element has been minimised until it may be said to be eliminated. Mr. Thornycroft says that he does not like the room in which the greater part of his life is spent to be comfortless. The very water-pot that holds the brush with which the sculptor must sprinkle his clay to keep it moist, is enclosed in a brass pot of quaint design, being, in fact, a Breton milk-pail. . . . Culture, true culture, not its teacup semblance, pervades the very air of the room. For while paintings, sketches, photographs line the walls, a piano occupies the place of honour, and a violoncello rests against the jamb. Then there is a bookcase, and books are carelessly strewn around--sure tokens that they are kept to be read, not merely looked at. And examining them we shall see that poetry, and poetry of the best and highest kind, predominates. Upon the floor is spread a matting, with here and there an Oriental rug, forming patches of pleasant colour, another notable feature in Mr. Thornycroft, and rare in a sculptor, being his fine eye for colour. The quaint fireplace, designed by the artist, encloses a hearth with Early English dogs. And as is fitting, and as it has been since all ages, that the hearthstone be the guardian of whatever is sacred to the house-owner, so here Mr. Thornycroft has acumulated his Penates. On each side the lintel hang photographs of portions of the Elgin marbles, which Mr. Thornycroft recognises as the chief masters in his art; while over the centre is a cast of one of the tigers in Professor Hallmel's "Bacchic Procession," so unfortunately destroyed in the fire that consumed the Dresden Theatre. Over the fireplace itself are Mr. Thornycroft's favourite antiques, which he places here, as he expresses it, to keep his eyes fresh, and which enable him, when he lifts them from his work, "to see how bad it is." It is the period of the Elgin marbles, the highest type of Greek art, that Mr. Thornycroft loves best; and it is characteristic of his sense, his taste, his freedom from conventionality, that the specimens he has chosen to be his Penates are not those that one would, perhaps, look to see upon his fireplace. True, a large photograph of the Venus of Milo surmounts the whole altar, as it may be justly called; but then it would, indeed be rank heresy in any artist to exclude from his work-room the dearest of the antiques. Beneath the Aphrodite stands a copy of the fine dignified bust known as the Oxford Fragment, probably a Demeter. And truly it is fitting that the Earth Mother should preside over the hearthstone of one of her healthy sons. On her one hand is a torso of the Cyrenian Aphrodite, on the other the so-called "Hera" of Kensington, with her placid, archaic, curiously thoughtful beauty. The other busts and statuettes all testify to the sculptor's sympathy with early Greek art. . . .

The studio is lighted by a high lancet window . . . . Mr. Thornycroft can, when he desires, also light the room from above. The unique feature of his studio, and one of which he is specially proud, is that the wall does not come down flush with the window, but that beyond he has built for himself an alcove or low outer room, which presents the unspeakable advantage that, while he can get his work near to the light, he can himself, by retreating into this outer room, get at a distance from his object, and so have a good perspective whence to judge it. The alcove is connected with the studio by a curtain, and opens out on to the garden. On fine days, the door stands open, and a luscious background of greenery is presented to the eye, refreshing and resting, and combining very gratefully with the white of the sculptures, making them look less dénaturées than at the best they are apt to do in London.

--Wilfred Meynell, "Hamo Thornycroft, A.R.A.," in The Modern School of Art (London: W. R. Howell & Co., 1886): I:68–70.

2a Melbury Road

2B Melbury Road, London, in 2015

Note

The original plan of 2 Melbury Road, in which a one-story entrance porch west of the house lined up with the studios and opened onto a vestibule leading to the house or the studios, through a gallery, made it possible for the building to be subdivided into several discrete units. The present entrance porch was added in 1931, when the original entranceway and gallery became a separate house, Melbury Cottage. By this time the studios had alrady been subdivided into No. 2A Melbury Road and, around the corner, No. 24B Holland Park Road. In 1892, after his marriage, Thornycroft moved into the new studio-house he had constructed to the west of No. 2 (now 2B Melbury Road), also designed by John Belcher, leasing No. 2: the blue plaque, placed in 1957, adorns that house, now 2B Melbury Road.

--Survey of London, edited by F. H. W. Sheppard (London: The Athlone Press, University of London, for the Greater London Council, 1973), 37:143.