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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Thomas Banks (1735–1805)

One of the most distinguished of English neo-classical sculptors, yet none of the work which he executed before his departure for Rome in 1772 is known to have survived. Banks studied under Peter Scheemakers, and seems to have worked for William Hayward. On the strength of pieces produced around 1770, the Royal Academy awarded him a travelling scholarship. This was supplemented by his wife’s income from property, which enabled him to stay in Rome until 1779. In these years, Banks produced three narrative reliefs, remarkable for their clarity of design and emotive power. One of these, Thetis and her Nymphs Consoling Achilles for the Loss of Patroclus, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. After his return, Banks spent time in Russia (1781–82), where he sold a statue of Cupid to Catherine the Great for Tsarsko-Seloe. He was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1784 and in 1785, on becoming a full member of the Royal Academy, he presented as his diploma work the Falling Titan, a virtuoso display of sublimity on a small scale. Banks was able to appeal to the sensibilities of his clientele in such funerary monuments as that to Penelope Boothby in Ashbourne Church, Derbyshire. His last works, the monuments in St Paul’s Cathedral to Captains Burges and Westcott, set the tone for the cathedral’s series of monuments to Napoleonic War heroes, in their combination of classical figure idiom and modern pathos.

Bibliography (updated 2024): C.F. Bell, Annals of Thomas Banks, Cambridge, 1938; J. Bryant, Thomas Banks, 1735–1805. Britain’s first modern sculptor (Soane Gallery exh. cat.), London, 2005; J. Bryant, ‘Banks, Thomas’, ODNB, (2004), 2009; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. xiv–xv, 79–81; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 50–51; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, pp. 66–74; Royal Academy of Arts: ‘Thomas Banks (1735–1805)’; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. xxviii, 24–25; M.Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530–1830, revised by J. Physick, London, 1988, pp. 322–36.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003

Banks, Thomas

William Daniell, Thomas Banks RA, etching, 1809, Welsh Portrait Collection, National Library of Wales (photo: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)