Thornton Oakley studied at the University of Pennsylvania and received B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture in 1901 and 1902. He first studied with Howard Pyle in 1902 at Chadds Ford.
Oakley became an illustrator and writer for periodicals, including Scribner’s, Century, Collier’s, and Harper’s Monthly. In the years 1914-1919 and 1921-1936 he was in charge of the Department of Illustration at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. In 1914-1915 he also taught drawing at the University of Pennsylvania, and gave lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Curtis Institute. He was a member of the jury of selection and advisory committee of the Department of Fine Arts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926.
During World War I lithographs of his patriotic drawings of war work at the Hog Island Shipyard, Pennsylvania, were distributed by the United States government. During World War II he did three sets of pictures of the war effort for the National Geographic in 1941, 1943, and 1945. After the war he was commissioned to paint industrial subjects for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia Electric Company, Sun Oil, and other industries. In 1938-1939 he did six mural panels for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on epochs in science.
Thornton also illustrated many of his wife Amy’s travel books, which included several about the Pyrenees. This drawing was intended as an illustration for one such book. The Vignemale of the title is the highest of the French Pyrenean summits located on the border with Spain.
The cowherd in the foreground is a handsome example of Oakley’s skill with charcoal—the dramatic form of his cape echoes the mountains towering behind him.