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Thomas Allom was primarily an important architect of the 19th century in England. Like Leo von Klenze or Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Germany, Thomas Allom was part of the art movement of historism. These architects and artists made their studies in the fields of topographic drawings and paintings during extensive travels. Thomas Allom was one of the few architects who came as far as China and who had achieved a great mastership in drawing at the same time.
Thomas Allom was born in Lambeth, south of London, as the son of a coachman. In 1819 he began an apprenticeship with Francis Goodwin, a master of neo-gothic, and worked for him until 1826. In exhibitions in 1824 and 1827 Allom's first designs for church buildings were well accepted. Later he studied at the Royal Academy School in London and became one of the major architects in England.
But Thomas Allom was not only an exceptional architect. He also made himself a name as topographic illustrator. Allom was travelling since the 1820s to study buildings and monuments on the spot and to document them as illustration for travel guides. First he travelled all over England. Later he extended his journeys to mainland Europe to make drawings of European architecture and cities.
In 1834 Thomas Allom came as far as Istanbul in Turkey. He made hundreds of drawings in Anatolia and later in Syria and Palestine. Some of these drawings were published as steel engravings: in 1838 for the book "Constantinople and the Scenery or the Seven Churches of Asia Minor" by Robert Walsh and in 1840 for the book "Character and Costume in Turkey and Italy" by Emily Reeve.
After the Middle East Thomas Allom travelled to the Far East. In China he found a plethora a motifs of which an artist could dream of. Next to exotic buildings and monuments he illustrated life in China as if it took place on a stage decorated with architectural settings. These genre illustrations were published in 1842 and later as "China Illustrated".
The beauty of the steel engravings after his drawings and watercolors is impressive. Allom's love for details raises these works to historic documents of great value. His print works express a sense for picturesque effects, and the play with light and shadow make them look like theatrical scenarios.
The "China Illustrated" series was published three times:
All three editions were made from the same engraving plates. The plates were sold from Fisher & Son to Peter Jackson to London Printing & Publishing Company.
A heart disease made travelling impossible for Thomas Allom. During the 1860s his artistic and architectural creations became more and more rare. And finally in 1870 he retired. He died at the age of 68 and was buried in the famous Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
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