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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Mary Thornycroft (née Francis) (1809-1895), Sculptor; wife of Thomas Thornycroft; daughter of John Francis

Sculptor; born at Thornham, Norfolk, baptized 24 December 1809 in Cornwall, daughter of sculptor John Francis. Trained with her father; exh. RA 1835–77 and British Institution 1845–64; best known for ideal forms and portraits of children, especially of the royal family; married 1840 fellow-sculptor Thomas Thornycroft, whose work she assisted but whose career proved the less successful; of their six surviving children four became artists; also taught the daughters of Victoria and Albert; retired 1880; died 1 February 1895 in London.

She was described as possessing ‘handsome, cultured and highly intelligent features’ and a character that was sweet and ‘gentle, yet with latent courage in righteousness’. [1] According to her grandson, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, she was ‘the most distinguished sculptress of her time’ and ‘someone to be looked up to as well as loved … in addition to being a gracious and beautiful old lady in a white shawl, she was a woman of strong character and rich humanity whose favourite fireside reading was in Hudibras and Tristram Shandy’. [2]

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Stephens 1895, p.305.
2) Siegfried Sassoon, The Old Century and Seven More Years, London, 1938, pp.28–9.

Referencesback to top

Darling-Glinski 2004
Darling-Glinski, F., ‘The Privilege of Patronage: Mary Thornycroft and the Sculptural Aesthetic’, Sculpture Journal, vol.11, 2004, pp.55–68.

Friedman et al. 1993
Friedman, T., and others, The Alliance of Sculpture and Architecture: Hamo Thornycroft, John Belcher and the Institute of Chartered Accountants Building, Leeds, 1993.

Hurtado 2005
Hurtado, S.H., ‘Going Public: Self-Promotion Strategies Employed by “First Wave” Victorian Women Sculptors’, Sculpture Journal, vol.13, 2005, pp.18–31.

Maas 1984
Maas, J., The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984.

McCracken 1996
McCracken, P., ‘Sculptor Mary Thornycroft and her Artist Children’,Woman’s Art Journal, Fall 1996, pp.3–8.

Manning 1982
Manning, E., Marble & Bronze: The Art and Life of Hamo Thornycroft, London, 1982.

Mason 2003
Mason, M., ‘Work, work, work! Hamo Thornycroft and the Makers of Building’, Sculpture Journal, vol.10, 2003, pp.51–66.

PCF (Leeds) 2004
Public Catalogue Foundation, Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in West Yorkshire: Leeds, London, 2004.

Proctor 2004
Proctor, N., ‘Thornycroft, Mary (1809–1895)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004.

Stephens 1895
Stephens, F.G., ‘The late Mrs Mary Thornycroft’, Magazine of Art, June 1895, pp.305–7.