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Artists In Dorset

Sir James Thornhill (1676 - 1734).

Born in the borough of Melcombe Regis, Weymouth in 1676. He was born into an ancient family who were gentry. The family possessed a Coat of Arms and manor houses at Thornhill dating back to 1227 and another at Woolland in 1540 after the Dissolution of Milton Abbey.  

Thornhill was helped by his Great-Uncle Dr. Thomas Sydenham, an eminent physician, to study art in London.

On 9th May 1689 Thornhill became an apprentice to one of is relatives, Thomas Highmore who later became sergeant-painter to William III.

In March 1709, when Thornhill was just 33 years old, a competition to decorate Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral dome. The commission was to be on a theme confined to “Scripturall History taken from the Acts of the Apostles” to which Thornhill took his theme from the life of St.Paul. Some six years later Thornhill was awarded the commission, in 1715, and this was speculated the influenced by the desire that the artist to decorate the revered building be English in origin (Thornhill’s rivals included Antonio Pellegrini, Pierre Berchet, Catenaro & Louis Cheron).