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Hamo Thornycroft

Hamo Thornycroft, by Theodore Blake Wirgman, 1880 -NPG 2218 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Hamo Thornycroft

by Theodore Blake Wirgman
Pen and brown ink on white card, 1880
6 1/4 in. x 7 3/4 in. (159 mm x 197 mm)
NPG 2218

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in brown ink lower left: ‘T. Blake Wirgman / May 29: / 1880’.

This portraitback to top

This drawing of Thornycroft in the uniform of the Artists’ Rifles, which he joined in 1871, shows him on a field day during a break between exercises. It depicts him in the same pose as in a large engraving showing the Volunteer regiment on Wimbledon Common, drawn by Wirgman for the Graphic in July 1876, [1] and seems to have been copied from that composition; alternatively, it could be an original study for the group portrait, retrospectively signed and dated, although the ink of the inscription appears to be the same as that of the drawing.

Thornycroft was an enthusiastic member of the Volunteer movement, participating in the major manoeuvres each Easter and those at Wimbledon in July. In 1874 his diary recorded the following: ‘Our corps (Artists) have had several good battalion drills especially on Easter Monday when we marched about 20 miles: to Richmond Park, Wimbledon and back to London.’ He added, ‘Prinsep’s company “A” that is really composed of artists (the other four companies consisting of architects, clerks etc) carried off the prize for the best drill and keeps its place at the head of the battalion I am glad to say, being a member of it myself.’ [2]

Theodore Blake Wirgman, graphic artist and printmaker, was born into a Swedish family in Louvain, Belgium, and studied at the Royal Academy Schools, London, and then with Ernest Hébert in Paris. On returning to Britain he worked primarily for the Graphic between 1875 and 1901. He and Hamo Thornycroft were coevals and friends as well as fellow-Volunteers; in 1870 Wirgman painted the sitter’s mother Mary Thornycroft and several other portraits of Hamo by Wirgman are known (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, publ.1881, c.1881, exh.1883, 1884, 1885’). [3] In 1890 Thornycroft exhibited medal portraits of Wirgman and his wife. [4] A further seven portraits by Wirgman are in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

Another close friend of the sitter was Edmund Gosse, from whose collection the present work was acquired. He predicted that ‘1880 must be a great year’ for Thornycroft, who would be ‘a roaring lion’ by its end.[5] So it proved. By the date on this drawing, which may reflect the date Gosse acquired it, Thornycroft had stepped over the threshold of fame: his much-admired figure of Artemis with her hunting hound (RA 1880 (1566)) had been commissioned in marble by the Duke of Westminster and eight months later he was elected ARA. In June 1881 Gosse commissioned Wirgman to draw a portrait of Thornycroft working on Artemis which, if executed, is currently untraced. [6]

The central area of the drawing (approx. 160 x 200mm / 6 1/4 x 7/8in) not covered by the mount is badly discoloured.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) The Volunteers at Wimbledon – the Artists Corps after a skirmish (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1876’). This shows a large group of named sitters, including Leighton, Prinsep, Wynfield, Brock and Marks. A loose print of the engraving is in the Henry Moore Inst., Leeds, Thornycroft Archive, TII-E69. Another depiction of The Volunteers at Wimbledon by Wirgman was published in the Graphic, 24 July 1875, p.73.
2) Xerox copy of MS Diary 1873–85 (incomplete), 7 July 1874, f.188, Henry Moore Inst., Leeds, Thornycroft Archive.
3) One of the oils may have been the portrait exh. RSPP 1892 (88). Some correspondence between Thornycroft and Wirgman is now in the Henry Moore Inst., Leeds, Thornycroft Archive, 1996.9.
4) RA 1890 (1999 and 2010).
5) Letter from E. Gosse to W.H. Thornycroft, 31 Dec. 1879, quoted Manning 1982, p.76.
6) Letter from E. Gosse to W.H. Thornycroft, 13 June 1881, quoted Getsy 2004, p.68. In this period, Gosse was emotionally attracted to Thornycroft, with an attachment that modulated into friendship on the latter’s marriage. See also Gosse 1881.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, profile to left, small moustache, seated on ground, hands clasped round right knee, wearing military cap, jackets, breeches and boots, rifle lying in foreground, trees and landscape background.

Provenanceback to top

Sir Edmund Gosse; in collection of portraits presented by Lady Gosse and family, 1928.

Reproductionsback to top

Manning 1982, fig.52.

View all known portraits for Sir (William) Hamo Thornycroft

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