Dining Room Coving Mural
The 35 peacocks and pomegranates that decorate the coving were painted by John Thomas. This was a favoured design, also seen in the Royal Bath Hotel where a whole room was decorated from floor to ceiling with peacocks painted by Thomas and his nephew Oliver. Merton seems to have had a particular affection for birds, as they are a recurring decorative feature throughout the house.
John Thomas’ career spanned over fifty years. He worked as a book illustrator, wallpaper designer and landscape painter. However, his specialism was highly decorative Japanese-inspired murals. His work once adorned the walls of the Royal Exchange in London and the Manchester Reform Club. Thomas’ murals at the Russell-Cotes Museum are now the sole remaining examples of his extraordinary work.
Shortly after his purchase of the Royal Bath Hotel in 1876, Merton employed Thomas as resident artist. Assisted by Oliver, he designed and decorated ceilings, walls, covings and even stained glass in the Aesthetic Movement style. The Aesthetic Movement of the late 19th century championed pure beauty and “art for art’s sake”, emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations.
In 1898, Thomas was commissioned to decorate East Cliff Hall, where he incorporated favourite elements from the hotel’s decorative scheme throughout the house. He is believed to have died during this, his final commission.