Thomas Banks

(1735—1805) sculptor

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(b London, 22 Dec. 1735; d London, 2 Feb. 1805).

English sculptor. He was one of the most serious-minded of British Neoclassical artists, aiming at noble treatment of elevated subjects. Like-minded contemporaries greatly admired him (Reynolds called him ‘the first British sculptor who has produced works of classic grace’ and Flaxman ranked him alongside Canova), but he had limited opportunities to produce works in the antique vein, and he was less successful in worldly terms than his contemporaries John Bacon and Joseph Nollekens, who were more in tune with the demands of the market. Banks trained as a mason and ornamental carver, and also studied in the evenings in Peter Scheemakers's studio. In 1772 he was awarded a Royal Academy scholarship to Rome, where he remained until 1779. During this period he met Fuseli, who became a lifelong friend. Back in England, he had little initial success, and in 1781–2 he visited Russia, hoping for major commissions from Catherine the Great. However, his stay was brief, partly because he disliked the climate. After his return to England, he at last began to prosper, but mainly with church monuments, rather than with classical subjects such as Thetis Dipping the Infant Achilles in the River Styx (c.1788, V&A, London); he also produced a few portrait busts. His most famous work is the monument to Penelope Boothby (1793, Ashbourne church, Derbyshire), in which the 6-year-old child is shown sleeping rather than dead; several people, including Queen Charlotte, are said to have been moved to tears when it was shown at the Royal Academy before installation. His larger monuments, however, tend to be somewhat ponderous.

Subjects: Art.

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