He was the leading figure in the movement known as the New Sculpture. His close personal friend, the critic Edmund Gosse, coined the term "The New Sculpture" in 1894 and formulated its early principles from his relationship with Thornycroft. Thornycroft created a series of statues in the ideal genre in the late 1870s and early 1880s that sought to reanimate the format of the classical statue. These included Lot's Wife (1878), Artemis and her Hound (1880 plaster, 1882 marble), the Homeric bowman Teucer (1881 plaster, 1882 bronze), and the Mower (1884 plaster, 1894 bronze), arguably the first life-size freestanding statue of a contemporary laborer in 19th-century sculpture.
Thornycroft was one of the youngest artists to be elected to the Royal Academy, in 1882, the same year the bronze cast of Teucer was purchased for the British nation under the auspices of the Chantrey Bequest. After 1884, Thornycroft's reputation was secure and he received commissions for a number of major monuments, most notably the innovative General Gordon. Thornycroft continued to be a central member of the sculptural establishment and the Royal Academy into the 20th century. He was knighted in 1917. He increasingly became reactionary and resistant to the new developments in sculpture, even though it was his work of the early 1880s that helped catalyze sculpture in the United Kingdom toward developing new directions. In sum, he provided an important transition between the neoclassical and academic styles of the 19th century and its fin-de-siècle and modernist departures.
Blue plaque, 2a Melbury Road, London
A blue plaque commemorates Thornycroft at 2a Melbury Road, Kensington.