Valerie Thornton (1931-1991) Atlantes, Aulnay

Valerie Thornton (1931-1991) Atlantes, Aulnay

Valerie Thornton (1931-1991) Atlantes, Aulnay


Valerie Thornton who first began drawing architecture in 1952 was initially inspired by a show of photographs of church buildings. Her work which is rich is easily identifiable. Her style is characterised by strong designs and sculptural decorations such as windows, doors, walls and stonework eroded by acid thus evoking the time and weather beaten buildings she delineates. Her etching technique developed over the years, is highly individual.


In classical European tradition an atlas or atlant (plural atlantes) is a support sculpted in the form of a man which replaces a column or pilaster. The caryatid is the female precursor of this architectural form. This engraving is taken after such architectural feature from the church of St. Peter in Aulnay de Saintonge in Poitou in France. The church is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Western Europe.


Valerie Thornton had an enormously successful artistic career and her etchings and drawings are in private and public collections throughout the world including the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal and the New York Public Library. She started training at The Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting in 1949 but it was not until 1952 when she joined Atelier 17 in Paris and studied under Hayter that she began printmaking. She then started experimenting with biting the acid into the plate in such a way that it gave the effect of ancient stonework when printed. Her subject matters were predominantly architectural, including churches and Romanesque architecture. She travelled a lot to France, Spain and Italy and other countries and had close connections with American Institutions and patrons. In 1966 she married Michael Chase (q.v.) then Resident Curator of The Minories and moved into the building. Many of her works were produced in the basement of The Minories where she kept her etching press. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Painters/Etchers and Engravers in 1970 and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions as well as other venues. She lived at Chelsworth, Suffolk


Selected Solo Exhibitions

1960 The Minories, Colchester

1961 Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford

1961 Print Club, Philadelphia

1965 Zwemmer Gallery, London (also 1970, 1981, 1982, 1984)

1974 The Minories, Colchester

1980 Gilbert Parr, Gallery, London

1982 Faces of Stone II The Minories, Colchester

1992 and 2004 The Redfern Gallery, London

1998 Chappel Galleries, Chappel


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Ronald Blythe, ‘Thornton, Valerie Musgrave (1931 – 1991)’, first published 2004, 950 words]

‘Interview ‘in Arts Review, vol. 34, periodical, March 1982

Evelyne Bell