"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, June 8, 2019

William Thornton

This 1804 portrait of Dr. William Thornton by Gilbert Stuart hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect who designed the United States Capitol. He also served as the first Architect of the Capitol and first Superintendent of the United States Patent Office. -- Wikipedia
Noted architect. Trained as a physician at the University of Edinburgh, Thornton submitted an entry in the contest to design a United States Capitol in 1792 and won the first prize. Other surviving works of his include the Octagon House (1798-1801) in Washington. In 1794, he was appointed by President George Washington as one of the Commissioners of the Federal District, a post he held until 1802, when President Thomas Jefferson appointed him Commissioner of the Patent Office, an office he held until his death in 1826.-- Find A Grave
Dr. Thornton's official portrait as the First Architect of the Capitol is this 1930 painting by George B. Matthews of Gilbert Stuart's portrait. (See The Architect of the Capitol: Dr. William  Thornton.)

The portrait below of William Thornton by St. Memin hangs in the Octagon House in Washington DC, of which Thornton was the architect.

and this portrait,  after the St. Memin portrait, published between 1800 and 1810 belongs to the Library of Congress.

Allen C.  Clark in his article Doctor and Mrs. William Thornton in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol.  18, 1915, described Thornton.
He, of whom I write was a large man, for mind is the man. His eyes shone with intelligence for his head was full of intelligence. He was singularly handsome, or Gilbert Stuart made him so ; and he was even more handsome in the portrait of himself by himself. He knew many things, indeed, he knew almost everything And what he knew he was disposed to fully let everybody else know.
Among his  many and varied accomplishments, Thornton wrote a prize winning dissertation on phonetics and orthography, Cadmus or, a Treatise on the Elements of Written Language in 1793.


Here's Thornton's Table of all the Distinct Sounds Contained in the English Language from Cadmus.

You can read President John Adam's copy of Cadmus here.

Dr. Thornton was buried at Congressional Cemetery. He is the only non-congressman to have one of the Latrobe Cenotaphs.

to the memory of
William Thornton
Who departed this life
On the 28th of March 1828
Aged 67
Deo spes mea
(God my Hope)

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