We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
  Thomas  Gambier Parry (1816–1888), by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1833–5 Thomas Gambier Parry (1816–1888), by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1833–5
Parry, Thomas Gambier (1816–1888), benefactor and art collector, was born on 22 February 1816 in Cadogan Place, Belgravia, London, the only child of Richard Parry (1776–1817) and Mary Gambier (d. 1821), daughter of Samuel Gambier and niece of James, Admiral Lord Gambier. His father and his grandfather, Thomas Parry of Banstead, Surrey, were wealthy directors of the East India Company. Brought up by two maiden Gambier aunts, he went to Eton College (1829–33) and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a BA in 1837, proceeding MA in 1848. He was taught watercolour painting by William Evans, the drawing-master at Eton, and later by Peter DeWint; Henry Warren (1794–1879) and Sir John Gilbert taught him oil painting.

In 1838 Parry purchased Highnam Court, an 1811-acre estate near Gloucester, which he considerably improved; it remained his lifelong home. He established a pinetum in 1844, encouraged by the collector and arboriculturist Robert Stayner Holford, and in 1848, in memory of his first wife, Anna Maria Isabella (Isabel) Clinton (1816–1848), whom he had married on 13 August 1839, he commissioned Henry Woodyer, a pupil of the architect William Butterfield, to design the church of the Holy Innocents at Highnam in the Decorated Gothic style. Parry paid for and endowed the church (consecrated 29 April 1851), the school, the church lodge, and the rectory. A keen high-churchman, he joined the Cambridge Camden Society (founded 1839 and later renamed the Ecclesiological Society), to whose publications he contributed important papers on church decoration. He embarked on a scheme of decoration for the church of the Holy Innocents (1859–61, 1870–80), having perfected the ‘spirit fresco’ technique, which consisted of pigment mixed into a medium of bleached wax, Elemi resin, spike lavender, and copal varnish. The advantages of this method were its durability, resistance to change, and dull finish; similar processes had been tried by early nineteenth-century French and German artists and had been researched by Parry's friend, Sir Charles Eastlake. In 1880 Parry published an official account of Spirit Fresco Painting (2nd edn, 1883), and the process was used by Frederick, Lord Leighton, in his two large frescoes The Arts of War and of Peace (1878–80 and 1884–6, Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Parry was an inveterate traveller, and in 1851–2 he journeyed extensively in France, Germany, and Italy, where he saw murals by the German Nazarene artists Friederich Overbeck, Peter von Cornelius, and Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Although he had begun collecting while at Cambridge, it was not until 1851 that he became interested in trecento and quattrocento Italian masters, and from his journals, account books, and inventories we can accurately track his acquisitions. By 1863 he had bought several important paintings either in Italy or in London, including Lorenzo Monaco's Coronation of the Virgin; three predella panels by Fra Angelico, The ‘Imago pietatis’ Flanked by Saints; and Bernardo Daddi's polyptych of 1348. If not a pioneer in this field, he bought with discrimination; nor did he confine himself to paintings, buying medieval ivories, maiolica, Limoges enamel, Venetian and German sixteenth-century glass, and Islamic metalwork. Almost all of these collections were bequeathed by his grandson, Mark Gambier-Parry, to the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, in 1966.

Parry became a leading authority on decorative painting and was asked to complete the eastern six bays of the nave ceiling of Ely Cathedral (1862–4). He also decorated St Andrew's Chapel in Gloucester Cathedral (1866–8) and the lantern (octagon) of Ely Cathedral (1874–5), and in 1878 he painted the ceiling of the Ely baptistery (all executed at his own expense). His style owed much to the Italian trecento, but in his love of richly coloured, stylized naturalism, he is close to William Morris and William Burges.

Parry's second wife, Ethelinda (Ethel) Lear (d. 1896), daughter of Francis Lear, dean of Salisbury, whom he married on 5 August 1851, accompanied him on his travels. The couple had five children: their eldest son, Ernest Gambier-Parry (1853–1936), invalided from the army in 1885, became the family archivist. Ethel also took care of her surviving stepchildren: Charles Clinton Parry (1840–83), Lucy Parry, and , who later became a distinguished composer.

Parry was life president of the Gloucester School of Science and Art (1858–88), and he founded and endowed the orphanage St Lucy's Home, and the Free Hospital for Children, Gloucester, in 1866. Of medium height, square-built, and reserved in manner, he was a keen horseman, antiquary, linguist, and musician. He died of a heart attack at Highnam Court on 28 September 1888 and was buried on 3 October in the churchyard of the church of the Holy Innocents, Highnam. A large collection of his drawings, watercolours, and mural cartoons belong to descendants.

Dennis Farr

Sources  

priv. coll., T. G. Parry MSS [diaries and journals] · priv. coll., E. Gambier-Parry MSS · The Times (1 Oct 1888) · Gloucestershire Chronicle (6 Oct 1888) · D. Farr, ed., Thomas Gambier Parry, 1816–1888, as artist and collector (1993) · A. Blunt, ‘Thomas Gambier Parry: a great art collector’, Apollo, 81 (1965), 288–95 · A. Blunt and others, ‘The Gambier-Parry bequest to the University of London’, Burlington Magazine, 109 (1967), 111–77 · The Gambier-Parry collection: provisional catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art (1967) · DNB

Archives  

Glos. RO, compilation of work on the Highnam Court estate, etc. |  Courtauld Inst., corresp. of Anthony Blunt and Mark Gambier-Parry


Likenesses  

M. S. Carpenter, oils, 1833–5, priv. coll. [see illus.] · M. S. Carpenter, drawing (as young man), BM · M. Knight, oils (aged three or four), priv. coll. · carte-de-visite (in old age), priv. coll. · photograph (in middle age), priv. coll.; repro. in Farr, ed., Thomas Gambier Parry · photograph, priv. coll.

Wealth at death  

£164,307 5s. 4d.: probate, 22 Jan 1889, CGPLA Eng. & Wales