Sculptor. A farmer’s son from Cheshire, he was first apprenticed to a surgeon. His artistic aptitude was brought to the attention of the Duke of Sussex, and the young Thornycroft was introduced to the sculptor John Francis, who took him on as a pupil in 1835. Thornycroft married Francis’s daughter Mary, also a sculptor of great ability, in 1840. The couple visited Rome together in 1842–43, where they received advice from the expatriate sculptor John Gibson. Gibson recommended Mary as a portraitist to Queen Victoria, but her husband’s career was slower to take off. After his Jealousy of Medea had been shown in the Westminster Hall exhibition of 1844, he received two commissions for historical figures for the House of Lords in 1848. However, his equestrian statue of Queen Victoria, exhibited in plaster at the Great Exhibition, did not, in its first form, find a commission. An equestrian statuette of the Queen in riding costume, modelled in 1853, was edited in bronze by the Art Union. After Prince Albert’s death Thornycroft was commissioned to produce equestrian statues of the Consort for Halifax (1864), Wolverhampton (1866) and Liverpool (1866), and a group representing Commerce for the Albert Memorial. Another public statue was the marble of the Marquess of Westminster for Chester (1869). The following year he made a companion Queen Victoria on horseback, to stand beside his Liverpool Albert. Thomas Thornycroft’s most famous work is the colossal bronze group of Boadicea and her Daughters at the northern end of Westminster Bridge. Though started in 1856, this was cast in bronze posthumously, under the supervision of the sculptor’s son Hamo Thornycroft, and inaugurated only in 1902.
Bibliography: E. Manning (E. Thornycroft), Bronze and Steel. The Life of Thomas Thornycroft, Sculptor and Engineer, Shipston-on-Stour, 1932; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; M. Stocker, ‘Thornycroft, Thomas (1815–1885)’, ODNB, (2004), 2006.
Philip Ward-Jackson 2011
Ernest Edwards, Thomas Thornycroft, albumen print, published 1864 by Lovell Reeve & Co, NPG Ax13921 (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)