Stephens on Thornycroft
F. G. Stephens writes of William Hamo Thornycroft with high regard, frequently describing the importance of his sculptures to the art of his generation and of his value to the Royal Academy. Stephens chronicles Thornycroft’s early life, writing of his large, talented family of sculptors from Cheshire in the northwest of England. The artist's parents, Thomas (1815-1885) and Mary (née Francis; 1809-1895) Thornycroft, were also working artists and contributors to the Royal Academy; several of his siblings also became artists, cementing the legacy of the Thornycroft name. After gaining an education in the Grammar School at Macclesfield and at the University College School in London, Stephens relates, Hamo Thornycroft made the decision to follow in the footsteps of his successful parents and become a sculptor himself, enrolling in the Royal Academy schools as a student in 1869.
Stephens gushes about Thornycroft’s successful work through the years, never missing the opportunity to mention an award won by the artist. “Diligence and natural gifts assured his progress," Stephens writes, "so that, in December, 1870, he obtained a silver medal for a restoration, and, in the same year, a second similar medal for a model from the antique.” Thornycroft also assisted his father in several commissions, most notably the Park Lane fountain, but his solo success came in 1872, when he debuted as an artist with a bust of Professor Sharpey, a distinguished member of University College, and a portrait in relief, Mrs. Mordant. Traveling to Italy in the same year that he won the Royal Academy’s silver medal for his “drawing from the life,” Thornycroft gained his admiration for the works of Michelangelo. In the following years he exhibited works such as Fame, in 1873, and a statue of Lord Mayo on horseback, an Indian commission carried out with his father, in 1874. Stephens details the praise that this work received, writing that it “attracted those who searched the sculpture galleries for meritorious productions, as well as other observers to whom the bruit of the schools and the young artist’s friends had carried the name of the ‘sculptor of the future.’” Thornycroft didn’t exhibit at the Academy in 1875, but he won a gold medal for A Warrior Bearing a Wounded Youth from Battle, which was exhibited the following year at Burlington House. Stephens declared Thornycroft's Artemis, completed in 1880, superior to any of his previous works.
On January 20, 1881, Thornycroft cemented a legacy of his own with his election as an associate member of the Royal Academy. During that same year, he exhibited Teucer, which the Academy purchased with the Chantrey Fund and transferred to the South Kensington Museum (now in the Tate collection). (This was the third work of sculpture purchased through that bequest, the others being Leighton's Athlete Wrestling with a Python and Calder Marshall's Prodigal Son.) Another version of Artemis was shown in an exhibition in 1882, and in 1885, Thornycroft showed five works, the most important, according to Stephens, being the statuette of Miss R. Sassoon. In 1884, Thornycroft sculpted what Stephens deemed to be his best work: a bronze statue titled The Mower.
Coincidentally, Thornycroft received his honor from the Royal Academy alongside Frank Dicksee, another artist photographed for Artists at Home. Believing that Thornycroft should have received the honor years earlier, Stephens snubs the Academy, writing, “If elections to the A.R.A.ship had been invariably secured by the merits of the chosen artist, Mr. Thornycroft need not have waited till January 20, 1881, for the less dignified Academical honour.”
Stephens would later write a short biography of Hamo’s mother, Mary Thornycroft, in which he not only praises her work as an artist but also gives a flattering description of her features as “highly intelligent . . . gentle, yet with latent courage in righteousness.” Stephens’s explicit fondness of Mary Thornycroft’s work, personality, and appearance may have contributed to the positive biography of Hamo and his sculpture. Although Stephens lists Thornycroft’s artworks in great detail, he fails to mention much about his character and personal life, two aspects of an artist that greatly influence his or her artistic style.