PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF MR. AND MRS. WINSTON FREDERICK CHURCHILL GUEST
Thornton posed for Scottish portraitist and sporting artist Philip Reinagle on more than one occasion, often with his animals, who were famous in their own right for their breeding and skills. The dog Major, who appears at Thornton's knee, fathered a celebrated line of greyhounds, and undoubtedly the falcon on Thornton's arm is one of the three praised in his obituary—Sans Quartier, Death, or Devil.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Thornton was a Lieutenant Colonel in the West York Militia, but a dispute with his men in 1794 led to his court martial and resignation, which Thornton recounted in a pamphlet. He sought the advice of Napoleon Bonaparte on the matter during two trips to France in 1800 and 1802. In A Sporting Tour Through France, Thornton recalls that Bonaparte admired the medal he wears in this portrait, inscribed THE TRIUMPH OF TRUTH, which had been a gift from his soldiers before their mutiny.
In addition to Thornville estate in Yorkshire, Thornton purchased two other country estates, one of which exclusively for falconry, and spent almost two decades on Scottish expeditions, chronicled in A Sporting Tour through the Highlands of Scotland. At his lavish parties, the sitter earned his reputation as a “six-bottle man” and displayed his collection of sporting art by Reinagle alongside European masters including Guido Reni and Rubens. In 1819, Thornton was forced to sell his collection, probably including the present lot, in order to settle the debts he had accrued from his extravagant, adventurous lifestyle.1
1. For biographical details, see P. Egan, Pierce Egan's Book of Sports and Mirror of Life. Embracing the turf, the chase, the ring, and the stage, interspersed with original memoirs of sporting men, etc., London 1836, pp. 131-5.
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