Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734)


Sir James Thornhill, b. 1675 or 1676, d. May 4, 1734, was an English painter in the baroque tradition. Although his early training remains obscure, he clearly had a knowledge of architecture and may have mastered the painting techniques of the Italian and French artists then working in England. He excelled in large-scale decoration of palace interiors in the grand manner--that is, grandiose compositions of figures in animated or rhetorical postures. His first major commission was the ceiling decoration (1707-14) of the Painted Hall at Greenwich, and it was followed by commissions at Hampton Court (1714-15) and Blenheim (1716). He was also responsible for the decorative work on the cupola, lantern and whispering gallery of St. Paul's Cathedral. His best known work in Dorset is the reredos at St. Mary's Church, Weymouth, depicting the last supper.

By 1725 Sir James had made enough money to buy back his families ancestral estate just to the south of Stalbridge and here built Thornhill House which he probably designed himself in the Palladian manner. In the grounds is a tall obelisk that Thornhill erected in 1727 to honor the accession of George II - from whom he no doubt expected royal patronage.

Sir James Thornhill also ran a private art academy where one of his was William Hogarth, who went on to be a far more famous painter than his master, and in 1727 married Sir James' daughter.

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