Thomas Banks RA (1735 - 1805)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A founding father of the British school of art, Thomas Banks was the most original of British neo-classical sculptors.

Born in London in 1735, Banks was educated in Ross-on-Wye, near Badminton where his father, a landscape gardener, was working. He was then apprenticed to a mason and woodcarver in London, while at the same time studying in the studio of the sculptor Peter Scheemakers. He also enrolled in the St Martin’s Lane Academy, and exhibited at the Free Society of Artists during the 1760s.

In 1769 Banks was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770, the same year he became the first sculptor to receive the Academy’s travelling scholarship to Rome. Banks lived in Rome (where his friends included Henry Fuseli) between 1772 and 1779 before returning to England due to a combination of illness and financial disappointments.

Banks early career coincided with the age of patriotic patronage and he was driven by the desire to realise large-scale projects. This took him to St Petersburg in 1781, where he where he sold a statue of Cupid to Catherine the Great and obtained further commissions from her. It may have been worsening diplomatic relations between England and Russia which caused him to return home the following year. In England Banks was able to partially realise his ambitions through a number of commissions for church memorials (including a vast monument to Sir Eyre Coote in Westminster Abbey). He was also a notable sculptor of portrait busts.

In 1785 Banks was elected as a Royal Academician, and presented as his Diploma Work the marble Falling Titan which he later claimed was based on sketches made with Fuseli in Rome. He was also a notable collector of old master drawings, many of which were later acquired by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Problematically, Banks had democratic sympathies – these led to his arrest on suspicion of treason in 1794, and the withdrawal of a bust of Oliver Cromwell from the 1803 RA exhibition. Banks died in 1805 and became the first sculptor to have a tablet erected in his name in Westminster Abbey. His admirer, the Academician John Flaxman, was prevented from reading a lecture on Banks shortly after his death for fear of angering the king!


Royal Academician

Born: 22 December 1735 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 2 February 1805

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 30 June 1769

Elected ARA: 8 November 1784

Elected RA: 15 February 1785

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Sculpture

Works by Thomas Banks in the RA Collection

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Works after Thomas Banks in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Thomas Banks in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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