James Thornhill is the first artist in the history of English painting to be knighted by the king for services to the arts.
James Thornhill (James Thornhill; July 25, 1675 – May 4, 1734) – a famous British artist of the early XVIII century, an outstanding representative of the Baroque style in European fine art. He was famous for creating large-scale frescoes, and the best masterpieces of his work adorn temples, palaces and luxurious private mansions in different parts of England. The painter also left to posterity a number of paintings of the portrait genre, which depict prominent politicians, scientists and artists.
James Thornhill is rightfully considered the founder of British historical painting. He enjoyed great prestige in society, was repeatedly elected a member of parliament, and was also the first of the English artists to be knighted by King George I in 1720.
James Thornhill was born on July 25, 1675 in the town of Melcomb Regis, England, the son of a small merchant and the daughter of a local governor. The father of the future artist soon went bankrupt, and the parents gave their son to be raised by his mother’s uncle, a wealthy London doctor, Thomas Sydenham.
Fortunately, an influential relative saw in time the boy’s talent for drawing. In 1689, James got a job as an assistant in the workshop of his friend, the artist Thomas Highmore. James continued his studies with the Italian master Antonio Verrio, who came to England at the personal invitation of the king.
Thornhill began his independent career as an artist in 1696, painting the interior of the houses of wealthy Londoners. Gradually, he gained fame as a talented young master of painting. In 1707 he received a massive commission from Queen Anne. James was commissioned to lead the painting work on the interior decoration of the central hall of the naval hospital in Greenwich. The accomplishment of this responsible task took twenty years.
Paintings of temples and mansions
Influential nobles vying with each other offered him generous orders. In 1715, the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned the master to paint the dome – St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Thornhill was twice elected MP for his native city. In Melcomb Regis, he built a luxurious mansion and lived in it for about ten years. For services to art, the artist was awarded the title of academician and received a knighthood. Little reliable information has been preserved about the personal life of the master. It is known that the artist was married and in marriage he had two children – daughter Jane and son John, who later also became a painter.
An interesting story connects Thornhill with another famous British master of art – William Hogarth, who was his student. Hogarth passionately fell in love with the daughter of his teacher, and she answered him in return. Young people wanted to get married, but Thornhill was categorically against this marriage. In March 1729, William and Jane married in secret. But in the conditions of strict morality of society at the beginning of the 18th century, they could not live together. Fortunately, in 1731, the father changed his mind after seeing some of Hogarth’s new works, and the young family was reunited.
By the end of his life, the artist had serious health problems. He increasingly suffered from acute attacks of gout. By the beginning of the 1730s, he stopped taking new large orders. At his home, he was engaged in theoretical research in the field of fine arts and planned to write a book. But on May 4, 1734, James Thornhill died at the age of 58, without completing his last project.