12 November 2008 - Russell-Cotes seeks information about the life of John Thomas
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth, UK, is searching for information about John Thomas, the Russell-Cotes’ resident artist who was heavily influenced by 19th Century Japanese art. A new exhibition exploring the influence of Japanese art on the Victorian interior decoration of the Russell-Cotes’ homes – Manga to Mural: the Japanese Sketches of John Thomas will run from 17 February to 1 November 2009.
Despite leaving such an important legacy, there are few records about John Thomas, and the Museum is keen to piece together Thomas’s life in time for the exhibition’s opening.
Thomas was originally employed by Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes in 1879 to create a ‘Japanese Drawing Room’ in the Royal Bath Hotel, in Bournemouth, of which they were the proprietors. At that time it was fashionable to incorporate Japanese visual elements in interior design. This was triggered, in part, by the new relative ease of world travel to more ‘exotic’ parts of the globe. A decade earlier, the 1862 London International Exhibition had allowed the British people to see art and artifacts from Japan for the first time, igniting a thirst for all things Japanese.
In 1898, the Russell-Coteses employed Thomas to hand-paint murals and glass in their new and eccentric museum-home East Cliff Hall (now the historic core of Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum). Most of the late-Victorian villa is adorned with hand-painted scenes across walls, covings and glass by Thomas and his son, Oliver. All the work is directly influenced by Japanese artists of the 19th Century, including the Manga of Hokusai. (Manga literally meaning ‘whimsical drawings’).
Shaun Garner, Collections Development Manager and curator of the exhibition explains, “We know very little about John Thomas. He was known as an artist from Bowden in Cheshire and by 1879 he was a celebrated artist in London.
“We also know that John Thomas had a son – Oliver, who assisted his father with some of the mural painting in some of the rooms at East Cliff Hall, possibly as a result of John’s failing health. We know John Thomas had died by 1908.
“We can’t find any local records of Thomas. We are appealing to people who may know something about Thomas to get in touch with us.”
Most of Thomas’s mural work was based on his Portfolio of Japanese Sketches, published 1873-75 and printed by Letham Bros. of Manchester. Many of these sketches were copies or adaptations of the art of the work of the great Japanese artists of the early 19th Century, such as Hokusai, Bairei and Hiroshige.
The Russell-Cotes visited Japan in 1885 returning with over 100 cases of curios. They had East Cliff Hall built as part-home, part-museum to showcase these objects along with others they collected form their travels to other parts of the world, as well as Merton’s important art collection.
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is appealing to anyone who may have any further possible information about John and Oliver Thomas to share it. The museum can be contacted on tel. 01202 451858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The exhibition Manga to Mural: the Japanese Sketches of John Thomas will run from 17 February to 1 November 2009. Admission will be free. Donations are welcome.